In focus

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Gallery 339’s 10-artist summer show, In Review, doesn’t quite come together as a statement about contemporary photography—the fluffy press release extols the work’s “lively, complex, and intelligent dialogue about meaningful issues.” Nonetheless, the uniformly polished work is attractive and occasionally insightful.

Kyohei Abe, Imaginary Scape #2, 2008, Archival Inkjet Print, 20 x 20 inches (left). Kyohei Abe, Imaginary Scape #12, 2008, Archival Inkjet Print, 20 x 20 inches (right). Images courtesy Gallery 339.

Kyohei Abe’s austere photographs of small objects on white tables show how fruitful technical rigor can be. Such a rarefied take on still life might come off as precious in the wrong hands. However, Abe’s masterful toning and printing exaggerates: the table-edges/horizon lines feel heightened (perhaps retouched?) in such a way that these borders go beyond formal elegance to become a narrative element in the story of creating the image. The material intricacies of the subjects are not merely indexed in the language of photography, but translated into prints as controlled as the tabletops Abe prepares.

Dustin Ream’s tightly cropped centered photographs of barns operate a bit like Abe’s, but don’t bear the same level of scrutiny. The prints are fine—sharply focused and clean—but fail to elevate the unimaginatively orderly compositions and predictably pleasing textures of rural architecture.

Two Untitled photographs from Dustin Ream’s Barns Series

Ream’s consistently geometricized documentary photographs bear some resemblance to the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. However, Ream’s photographs do not have the sustained deadpan the Bechers use to turn their formal repetitions into a conceptual inquiry.

A photo from Chang Kim’s Index Series

Chang Kim’s photographs, like Ream’s, are geometric and documentary, but Kim—by strictly limiting his subject to signage and the series-title “Index”—invites an analytic read. Kim’s in well-explored territory here, but holding his own.

Phillip Toledano, whose work has appeared in Vanity Fair, GQ, and the like, makes a strong showing with A new kind of beauty, studio-portraits of plastic surgery regulars.

Phillip Toledano’s A new kind of beauty

Toldedano’s professional chiaroscuro and monochromatic backgrounds, which would emphasize the desirability of a 17-year-old model, only underscore the inability of surgery to transform. In seeking to become a phantom image, surgery-regulars have become its opposite: while fashion essentializes gender roles, Toledano’s subjects seem almost in drag; while fashion values a narrow range of highly distinctive features, the features of the surgery-regulars are almost indistinguishable, differing primarily in scale.

Isa Leshko’s work is an interesting analog. She gives older animals the portrait-treatment, and while the results are less tidily critical and less consistent than Toledano’s photographs, the best are more enigmatic and more engaging.

Isa Leshko. Rooster, Age Unknown, 2008. Archival Inkjet Print, 8″ x 8″ (left). Isa Leshko. Pumpkin, Age 28, 2008. Archival Inkjet Print, 8″ x 8″ (right). Images courtesy Gallery 339.

In Leshko’s Rooster, Age Unknown, the animal’s worn-through feathers feel like bones or worn timbers and its grimace seems like it could belong to the bird’s dinosaur ancestors. The still-alert eye looks out at the viewer, not only from the photo, but out from the ancient-body-house the consciousness is trapped in. However, Leshko’s work can trip into the sentimental. Pumpkin, Age 28—a photograph of a glassy eyed horse emerging from darkness—is too much for my taste.

The photographs of Peter Ainsworth, John Chervinsky, and Joel Lederer seem more engaged with the history of painting than photography. Ainsworth’s images of smudges on concrete, cropped to create a shallow depth of field, borrow liberally from the devices of postwar abstraction. The regular arc of Chervinsky’s hanging balloon, target-on-paper, and picture-in-a-picture hand and string feel like riffs on neodada. Unfortunately, what is hard-won in one medium at one point in time seems almost too easy in another: both Ainsworth and Chervinsky’s efforts feel more decorative than substantial.

Peter Ainsworth. Untitled, From the Series “Concrete Island,” 2010, Chromogenic Print, 38 x 28 inches (left). John Chervinsky. The Hand of Man, 2006. Archival Inkjet Print, 23 x 18 inches (middle). Joel Lederer. 200804211518, from the Series “The Metaverse is Beautiful,”Archival Pigment Print, 40 x 50 inches. Images courtesy Gallery 339.

Lederer’s slightly psychedelic landscapes feel more fresh, but benefit, perhaps unfairly, from proximity to mostly tight figurative work.

It’s worth noting that In Review is a show that drew from international portfolio reviews and that diversity is reflected in the breadth of work. It does help makes up for the lack of thematic focus. In Review also features work by Gabriel Benaim and Hannah Price, and is on view until September 4th.

Tags

Chang Kim, Dustin Ream, Gabriel Benaim, hannah price, Isa Leshko, Joel Lederer, John Chervinsky, Kyohei Abe, Peter Ainsworth, Phillip Toledano

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