In all forms, languages, cultures and creeds love is expansive and transformative. It can be a beginning as easily as it can be an end. Love signifies all sorts. Sometimes it is intimate, literal, and exacting, at other times vague, eclipsing, and abstracted. Talking with Rachel Stern, curator of LOVE 2016, she never wanted love to be a definitive thing, she always wanted this group show to be a way to reign in the new year. And why not? After all love is not limited, it is a vast wonder place for imagery and imagination. The show, LOVE 2016 - currently on display at Columbia University's LeRoy Neiman Gallery - brings together a vast group of image-makers from all over. These makers were asked by Stern to either show old work, new work, or respond to the shows concept in a way to look towards the future. "This is a show I wanted to see." Stern tells me with an excited smile. She is as lovely and accommodating, as one would expect form a curator of a show about love.
Self-Portrait, Los Angeles June 2014 © Hobbes Ginsberg
"Responding to love is like responding to air." Stern is like talking to an intelligently insightful romance poem, she is full of these wonderful isms. The passion is apparent. The show at first glance can almost seem flippant; it is not. The gallery space is instantly atmospheric. The walls - adorned in a not so symmetrical system of lush roses - hit you and suddenly you're in the center of a bull-fighting ring. These icons of exaltation envelope the shows desire, driving its diversity, while also holding its thread. Looking through the show and its images, beyond love, what speaks so clearly is the sense of community. "I'm always constantly wanting to make the most for my community with my community." It is this visual camaraderie Stern shares that engages and binds these works that could easily fall prey to distance from each other. There is an elusive tether; something about them together is almost supernatural.
Untitled (Danny-and-Lawrence) © Marc Swanson
The works themselves run a gamut from portraiture to conceptual - darkroom prints to sculptural and physical objects. They're plural and unexpected; they come from artists of all ages and walks of life. The show is inclusive and there is a sense of equality and identity that speaks to a larger envelope that is not hung up in specifics and titles. These people are the dreamers of dreams, the magic makers and the paupers of a new generation. They are not as bohemian as much as they are willing to experiment with visual language. Pushing at the possibilities and boundaries of photography and its preconceptions. There is as much recollection of history as there is spontaneous contemporaneity. The show is a striking success of awkward unusual bits, always poetic, coy at times, and highly definitive at others. It's clear, LOVE 2016 is what love looked like, looks like, and sets a temperature for the future of its interpretation.
"The show isn't done." Stern tells me with a good amount of restrained excitement. Her eagerness reads in her face, behind those comforting eyes. It reads in the effort and love that's been put into the curation and presentation of the show as well. What's the future? LOVE 2017 hopefully! For now this show will stand. It is an epically created environment, it banishes the notion and expectation of white walls and stuffy spaces. It's reinterpreting history, bouncing off its echo and allowing viewers to be filled with love or sadness, or whatever they want. It has many feels, and maybe the best part is the open-ended ability for individualized interpretation. These ideas stretch - vast not weighted down - and go beyond statements or judgments. There is a brilliantly subtle revolution brewing in the range of this broad show.
LOVE 2016 is on display at Columbia University's LeRoy Neiman Gallery through February 17th.
Checkout LOVE 2016's publication here.
You and Me Final © Kent Rogowski
(Left) Men,Mango Leaves & Dates (Right) Woman & Lychees © Micahel Bühler Rose
Suits © Martin Gutierrez
Family Portrait © T.M. Davy
Some people are calculated thinkers, understanding every move long before they ever make or think or speak. Others are much more intuitive and unconscious, they are about the moment and evolving from each one to the next. It should be said that regardless of the challenge of understanding no one way is more right than the other - just different - and the opportunity to compare is exciting. Julie Saul deserves a huge amount of praise for this reason; she has brought to her gallery two photographers that make photographs in these very opposite ways. However, they meet in such an interesting place. What Corey Olsen has in youth, curiosity, and novelty Zeke Berman has in wisdom, craft, and contemporaneous composition. Both are craftsmen of still life photography, painterly and heteroclite.
Personally my favorite thing about Berman and Olsen and their images is the first thing they bring to mind, unequivocally that thing is their history. William M. Harnett leads to Kurt Schwitters leads to Jasper Johns leads to these two contemporaries, Berman and Olsen. They are sculptors, collagists, and photographers. Aficionados of light, color, asymmetry, staged theatrics, surface, and the ordinary taken way out of context. It's a really great show! The works are solid at times and then open-ended at others. There is space to be filled beyond the elucidation and perplexity in the predicament of the photos juxtapositions. Admittedly they take a lot of time, the reward is so huge it seems insurmountable.
Garage Still Life © Corey Olsen
Corey Olsen will take you back to a familiar time in your life - long before complication - when imagination was so important. Back when you'd aimlessly shift through relics and the family tool chest or garage. Who wasn't doing that as a kid? You'd find all those strange odds and ends, tools not quite toys that blasted creativity off into endlessly unknown possibilities. Some of the colors were bright, others faded, smells of rust and dirt, a forgotten bicycle helmet, and all those cans of chemicals that served a purpose that one time. Olsen assembles his birc-a-brac almost too precisely; his lighting and perspective is nothing short of nouveau. Behind the immediacy, carefully controlled intent, and playfulness of the work Olsen expels a certain sense of quite isolation. Being a kid in the stillness of Maine has clearly built a huge sense of explorative expectation in the young photographer. Olsen shares, "Maybe all the pieces make no sense. But my biggest hope is that people will discover things about their expectations of everyday artifacts."
Drawing Board Diptych © Zeke Berman
Zeke Berman is an illusionist. His photos are those of universally conveyed thoughts dealing with perception and questioning the very core of optics. Where does something end and beginning? Is there a front, what happens on the back? These are all challenging questions for a photographer - who deals in a two-dimensional finished product - to take on. "I'm trying things out and want to understand in the moment." Berman says. The verbal understanding that he has of his photos is not to be believed. The compositions are ambiguous, beguiling, surreal, and articulated. His still lives are accurately laid out forms, technical and exquisite in their quality of collage and sculpture. These photographs are seductive! Viewing them at first glance there seems to be something mirrored or symmetrical in their structure. Upon closer inspection the mystery of their seduction is revealed. There's nothing mirrored about them, just when parts seem to be perfect reflections something goes wrong, there's a shift, a change. The images have been designed only half symmetrical. In so many ways Berman's images become Joseph Jastrow's iconic duck rabbit.
Berman and Olsen are students of epistemology. Their photography allows for new study, understanding, and knowledge. These photographers are distant in years but a kin in spirit. Their aesthetics sing to one another, they are totally without time, and demanding of comprehension. The success of the work is reliant on the time viewers take.
Be sure to catch these two great shows at Julie Saul Gallery Through February 20th.
Garage Still Life © Corey Olsen
Letter Rack © Zeke Berman
Garage Still Life #4 © Corey Olsen
Web #2 © Corey Olsen
Garage Still Life #21 © Corey Olsen
Cubes © Zeke Berman
Every Breath We Drew is a collection of people of all different sizes, shapes, backgrounds, orientations and identifications. Dugan is fascinated by masculinity and capturing what she refers to as "vulnerable masculinity." "I find all of my subjects myself. It's hard to say exactly what it is that qualifies them. Something about my initial reaction to them." The process every step of the way is about this kind of personal intimacy. Dugan is very involved and an integral part of the photographic narrative. She uses self-portraits throughout the body of work; they become a constant. With Dugan as the familiar face throughout the photos she turns into a representation of the identifiable self. Dugan becomes anyone, in this way the viewer is interjected into the narrative through her. Suddenly her subjects are more noticeably looking at you. The conversation evolves, as the viewer is able to take control of the portraits.There is a huge sense of community given the nature of the images. How does a person come into their body while also connecting with others? The source of this inquiry can be open ended; after all, it's highly individualized and deals in the self. The images keep pushing on a desire to seek a genteel masculinity. Dugan stresses that there is a need to redefine; masculinity is more expansive than commonly understood. The self is a starting point, as the subjects allow their comfort to creep in, more information is revealed. Light and pose play into these peoples places. All of Dugan's images are crafted in the subject's home where they could be most susceptible to allowing an authentic moment to play out. Dugan's frames are slow, the thinking and consideration to the environment is evident, and each moment retains a charged emotion.
If you've ever taken a trip through New England, Cape Cod or Provincetown, it goes with out saying you know something about the quality of light out there. Those tender revealing hues of light, and the color blue like nothing else you've ever seen; everything's rich. That light and those blues, touch every inch of you - every inch of everything. You can't be out there and not think about Edward Hopper's paintings. John Arsenault's work is a lot like them, if Edward Hopper had a hidden closest full of good shoes, leather, and a cache of kinky friends. Similarly to Hopper, Arsenault has that sense of light and surrealism. His subjects don't simply pose, they penetrate their frames. What on earth could they possibly be thinking about?
What's on anyone's mind at the Eagle in LA?
© John Arsenault, "Exit (Self Portrait)," 2012
"It's so important to me to be open to the gray areas of my life. At first I didn't see photographing the Eagle as a project unto itself. I fell into bar backing totally by chance. As I got to know the people there I felt a commitment to them, myself, and this story." Arsenault's work has always been very rooted in the self and the work is diaristic. It's interesting to note both the love and care in the photo's, and the way Arsenault talks about them, and his experience. He's always sought out this intimacy, with people, with place, with light. Oh, that light. You don't need him to tell you his influence, the painterliness, and gesture are clear. He has taken an otherwise cacophonous escapade and quieted it down. Arsenault is a keeper of moments and tensions before, or maybe just after something wonderful, something sexual, something depraved or totally unforgettable. The environment becomes isolated and calmness sets in. But in the dark of the bar there is never a complete assurance of that controlled moment.LA's Eagle provided Arsenault with an opportunity to be a little out of place, maybe very out of place. "At first I would come to work with this ideal of what I should be or look like. And I realized I didn't need to pretend, it's more important to hold onto myself." It's pretty easy to get sucked into the atmosphere of a place, you walk different, you move different, and sometimes you are able to forget everything just to fit in. People showing up and being who they are and not some list of ideals is Arsenault's strongest message. It's good to keep that in mind. The Eagle is full of vice, and it's the individual people, the dark corners, and intimate moments that make it what it is.