The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

October Midtown Walkabout

Ed Barnas
Photo by Ray K. Metzger . Source: laurencemillergallery.com
Ray K. Metzger, "Untitled Light Drawing" 1996

At the start of October I meandered over to midtown to see the latest photo offerings in the 57th Street galleries. I began with the Ray K. Metzker exhibit at Laurence Miller Gallery. “One and Only: Unique photographs and works on paper.” included work from over a half-century of Metzker’s explorations in a broad range of techniques: multiple exposures, collages, composites, cut paper, photograms, light drawings, and even some figurative images in multi-panel pieces — the “Strip Tease” series from the 1960’s, and the untitled light drawings from the 1990’s, the most interesting to this viewer.

Photo by Mona Kuhn . Source: houkgallery.com
Mona Kuhn, "AD6408" 2014

Slightly north of 57 St on 5th Avenue, the Edwynn Houk Gallery is showing Mona Kuhn’s recent color digital work - her “Acido Dorado” series, its title taken from a house designed by Robert Stone in Joshua Tree National Park. Working with her friend Jacintha as collaborator and model, Kuhn explores the arid landscape of the desert seen through the pools and reflective surfaces of Stone’s golden hued creation. Thirteen images range from dreamy backlit softness to sharp, multi-layered reflections. In marked contrast to the last show of her work, these chromogenic prints vary in size from 30x40 to 35x60 and fill the large space of the gallery.

Photo by Saul Leiter . Source: howardgreenberg.com
Saul Leiter

At the Fuller Building, five galleries present contrasting styles of photography.

Starting on the 14th floor, I found the Saul Leiter show at Howard Greenberg, a space well known for exhibiting photojournalism and street photography. Over fifty silver gelatin prints of Leiter’s early black and white work from the 40’s and 50’s graced the walls of the spacious main room. Classic street photography with impressionistic use of shadow and abstraction, many of Leiter’s images (e.g., “Shoes of the Shoeshine Man” series) are a visual synecdoche rather than capturing the whole subject. Complementing these monochromatic images are a set of eight color photos from the early 60’s, seven of Leiter’s “over-painted” photographs from the 50s to 70’s, and a video.

Off the main space is another area generally used to show more contemporary work, in this case, “Proximities,” an exhibit of recent photographs and line drawings by Alice Attie, better known for her poetry and drawings. This show presents the viewer with fifteen silver gelatin photographs of meadows along with ten ink drawings. Mostly 15x15, the photos use the waist-level finder of a vintage twin lens reflex to look up through the vegetation like a small child exploring. With a range of in- and out-of-focus areas, the effect is impressionistic and somewhat nostalgic.

Photo by Matthew Pillsbury . Source: bonnibenrubi.com
Matthew Pillsbury, "Robot Bar, Tokyo" 2014

At Bonni Benrubi the new Matthew Pillsbury exhibit“, Tokyo” is on view. Much smaller than Howard Greenberg, the show concentrates on contemporary imagery, often printed large scale. Pillsbury is known for his monochromatic time exposures of public and private spaces (seen recently at Aperture and Sasha Wolf). The current series, created in Japan earlier this year, has a few b&w prints, including a 3x3 grid of rooms in a capsule hotel. The majority of this work, however, is in color, its palette mostly soft and subdued.

Lois Connor’s “The Long View” is on display at the Gitterman Gallery. The title plays on the distant viewpoint in many of the images as well as Connor’s use of a 7 x 17-in. banquet camera (inspired in part by an Art History class on Chinese landscape painting). The forty-six contact platinum prints include a mix of landscapes and rooftop cityscapes from around the world. While the banquet camera’s natural mode is horizontal, I was most intrigued by the seven vertical images in the group, especially the images of a leaning tree in Bryce Canyon and a baroque façade in Prague.

Continuing to the Nailya Alexander Gallery where “The Cosmos of Denis Brihat” is on display. His studies of onions, fruits and flowers against neutral backgrounds are deceptive. Their soft color palette does not result from the use of color film, but rather from the careful application of gold toning or sulfration to monochrome gelatin silver prints. On one level these images recall the botanical drawings of Linnaeus; but, as a photographer, I was also reminded of similar studies by Weston and Steichen from the 1920’s. “Oignon, 2002” and “Poire, 1971” are particularly striking.

Photo by Saul Steinberg . Source: pacemacgill.com
Saul Steinberg, "Car" 1953

Leaving the Fuller Building, I crossed 57 Street to Pace/MacGill, where a section of the “Saul Steinberg: 100th Anniversary Exhibition” is displayed. This portion of the show featured an enjoyable variety of photo-based works dating mostly from the early 1950s. Some simply document whimsical installations (“Girl in Tub,” “Woman in Tub,” from 1949) while others are more interactive (a series of photos from June 1950 of children playing with a figure drawn on the sidewalk). In other images, Steinberg applied ink directly on the silver gelatin prints (“Excavation”). It is a departure from the work I usually see at this gallery but I enjoyed the change immensely and chuckled more than once.

Photo by Valdir Cruz . Source: throckmorton-nyc.com
Valdir Cruz, "Potato Picker / Catrador de Batatas" 1990

My final stop was Throckmorton Fine Art to see Valdiz Cruz’s essay on “Guarapuava,” his hometown in Brazil. The culmination of a thirty-year project, the twenty prints on display are a mix of landscapes and portraits with a few emblematic close-ups. From his last exhibit I was familiar with his landscapes, but the portraits were new to me. Some are identified by profession a la August Sander; others bear the name of the subject as well. However titled, these portraits show a connection between subject and photographer that brings them alive. I can easily imagine the “Potato Picker,” shown looking back at the viewer over his shoulder, joking with Cruz as the photo was made. But things change over three decades: A close-up of a horse and lasso and a long shot of gauchos and cattle receding in the distance serve to remind the viewer of the passing of old ways of life.

October Midtown Walkabout by Ed Barnas

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