Ceci N’est Pas: “Not a Photo” at The Hole
Not a Photo at The Hole
December 29, 2015 to January 17, 2016
312 Bowery (between Bleecker and Houston)
New York, 212 466 1100
It’s a photography show that isn’t. At least, that’s the conceit. “Not a Photo,” which opened at The Hole in December, collects works that look like or employ photography, but can’t themselves classically be called photos.
It’s a kind of a sister show to “Not a Painting,” at The Hole this past summer. That show, while similar in concept, explored the sustained aesthetic and compositional influence of painting on a younger generation of artists to whom the confines of genre and medium are largely irrelevant. “Not a Photo,” though ostensibly having similar aims for its chosen medium, does not operate in this way.
Tellingly, the works shown in each exhibition are not dissimilar. Many of the artists could easily have been in either one, such as Adam Parker Smith, who was in both. Smith is perhaps the best example here of the fluidity of medium. His work in the show, Crush (2012), is a photograph of a woman printed on canvas, blonde human hair sewn into the surface and blown amiss by a household fan in front of it. It’s a clever play on active imagery, like an animated gif come to life.
To the show’s credit, Smith is not the only example of humor. Susy Oliveira, who turns photographic prints into origami-like sculptures, contributes a blocky bouquet of flowers that look like low-quality computer graphics circa the late ‘90s. And Eric Yahnker’s piece, iFire (2015), the face of the show, is a pencil illustration of a pulpy man, mustache’d and shirtless, having his cigarette lit by an iPhone Bic lighter app.
There’s also a current of wry conceptualism. Ryder Ripps has one of his Ho portraits—appropriated from someone else’s Instagram, digitally manipulated, and then re-rendered in paint on canvas. Mark Flood includes one of his photomosaic prints. A meme of memes, Flood has arranged found images from the dark corners of the web to spell the word “KEK,” itself an Internet idiom, semi-synonymous with “LOL.” These works, if interesting (and the jury’s still out), are little more than a joke here, removed as they are from their larger conceptual contexts.
Indeed, much of the work is hindered by this problem: they’re stripped of their intended framework, or held in relationship with other works which, altogether, do not work in concert. Individual artists stand out in the show, both good and bad, but not because of the curatorial direction. The show’s conceit — that these artists use the medium of photography as a launching point or otherwise important step in their process — might be true, but only because it’s true for most artists. The strongest works here utilize the power of photography — namely its verisimilitude, or the print — to extend the reach of other mediums, and vice versa.
Letha Wilson is a good example. Her work here features emulsion transfers of landscape photos onto hunky concrete slabs, pleated like a handheld fan. They simultaneously bring a sense of physicality to photographs, and a lightness to the sculpture. She’s in conversation with folding photogramers like John Houck, and concrete-based artists like Sam Moyer. Contemporaries of Wilson, Kate Steciw and Rachel de Joode, have works hanging nearby. (These three were also in a strong three-person show at Martos Gallery that ran concurrently, and closed in mid-December.) Steciw’s pieces here, triangular photo-sculptures collaged from found images and hung from the ceiling, act as a kind of unavoidable visual obstacle in the gallery — a suitable metaphor for the profusion of visual media her work explores. Kate Bonner, too, is cut from a similar cloth: her work featuring digital images cut up, rearranged, and layered with a distinctly Photoshop feel. And while these works are strong independent of each other and represent a recent trend of colorful photo-sculpture, there is perhaps an overindulgence of this type of work.
Finally, there is Matthew Stone, whose two pieces actually help to justify the curatorial limitations of the show. His works, which look like cheap knock offs of Richter’s scrape-paintings are actually digital facsimiles of thereof. Stone paints on glass, photographs the result and digitally alters the images, then prints and collages them hodgepodge, one here on canvas, one on a translucent surface. The resolution of Stone’s prints is great enough so that from a distance the texture of paint translates seamlessly, and it’s not until you’re up close that you realize they’re prints. Viewed digitally though, they appear to achieve impossibilities of depth and contour. Like you can’t actually picture what they might look like in person. It’s the clearest and best example here of an artist using the camera as a way of changing the way the art works, while also considering the work as a digital image, which is how most of us are going to see it anyway.