Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The 2nd Silverstein Photo Annual

The 2nd installment of the Silverstein Photography Annual (SPA) recently opened. I continue to believe that this is a good and worthwhile addition to the NYC art and photography scene. I wrote a positive blog about it last year, and my views have not substantially shifted. We all know how tough it is for an artist to get a gallery show in the straight-jacket-tight NYC gallery scene. Artists struggle even to get their portfolios reviewed much less shown in a gallery. Add to that equation the fact that most galleries cannot gamble on economically unproven artists, and that most gallery owners are too busy paying the rent to see a broad spectrum of new work. (I don't blame them for this fact, but it is a fact.) Art consumers like me know that what we see in the galleries is a tiny slit in the panorama view of the art world. Because of these art-world realities, it seems obvious that SPA puts art in front of the NYC audience that would most likely not be seen here otherwise. I think this is deserving of praise.

Now, I know there are other outlets that show new work. There are the various museum shows like the MoMA New Photography series and the Whitney Biennial. One can visit the open studios of the many fine art schools in the area or see their graduation shows. I cherish these options as much as anyone, and I'm glad they exist, but none of them operate under the auspices of a gallery. I think this makes SPA a welcome addition. Whether Mr. Silverstein is flexing his curatorial muscle or showing his latent desire for museum cred is beside the point. The point is we get to see work that we wouldn't otherwise see. YAY!

I also like the format in which 10 curators (usually highly esteemed and renowned curators) are each asked to nominate one photographer. This means each choice is a highly edited and selective one, and it also deflates some criticism that the gallery and its directors are using SPA solely as a marketing tool. Is the work for sale? Yes. Does the gallery use the format to market itself? Of course it does. But I believe the spirit behind the marketing is honest, and that there is a love for the medium manifested in the show. Nothing is perfect; I choose to celebrate what is good in the idea.

Since perfection is an imperfect ideal, I suppose it's only to be expected that rapturous enthusiasm for every single chosen artist would be unlikely, even impossible. Again, I think this is a good thing. Most people who don't happen to be photography professionals never participate in the portfolio review process. They don't get the opportunity to see one artist against another with the sole criterion being choosing who is good. SPA lets us do that, although in a highly pre-selected way. It's fun and instructive to see who shines, who really speaks to us.

For me in this show that would be Raphael Dallaporta and Rick McKee Hocks.

Unlike most of the photographers in SPA, Mr. Dallaporta's work has been seen in NYC at least twice. His landmines work was in William Ewing's Re-Generation show at Aperture a few years ago (the same work now in SPA), and his Autopsy series was shown a few months ago in the NY Photo Festival in Dumbo. I liked the Landmines work from the very start. I love how something so menacing and deadly can be transformed into an object of glamour and seductiveness by a photographic perspective. There is a sweet moment of realization when walking up to this work. One's eye is attracted by the color and the shininess of the objects so we walk closer, just as real people do with the real thing. Then, we realize that these 1:1 proportion photographs show a deadly object that is pointed right at you. BOOOM! Terrifying. For many years, Mr. Dallaporta didn't want these photos to be sold to private collectors for fear that they would be used as objects of design and shabby chic. NY collectors are lucky that now he has changed his mind.

Rick McKee Hock creates fascinating work using Polaroid transfer onto Arches paper. I love the multiple layers of self-reflective commentary on photography and photographic process as the images are re-photographed images themselves. The combination Mr. McKee finds between well-known images and vernacular ones creates a tension in the best works that is mesmerizing. Each work is unique.

A show well worth checking out.

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