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Young Curators, New Ideas
Bond Street Gallery - 297 Bond Street
13 August - 6 September 6 2008
Young Curators, New Ideas, a rangy new group show at the Bond Street Gallery, is more fortune-telling than decisive statement. Latching onto the moving target of contemporary photography, the exhibition offers six different, and sometimes sparse, opinions on where photography is today (and where it's headed). Each curator was given only ten feet of wall space for the task, resulting in a surprisingly wide-angled show that ably sits conceptual throwbacks alongside brasher new media works.
Falling somewhere in the middle, Alana Celii & Grant Willing's show "Völuspá" (named for a Norse creation myth) tackles the themes of "magic, otherworldliness, secrets and nostalgia." Often weighed down by the ponderous curator's notes, the eleven works on display, as a whole, make for a hard swallow. Giving the show a lone moment of clarity, Gerald Edwards III's candy-colored fable of urbanism, Investigation into the Disruption of Power, manages a pose both reverent and bizarre. The rest of the photographs--aside from their generally solemn tone (desolate interiors and sidelong glances punctuate many of the works)--are an inchoate-looking bunch, lacking any greater conceptual or thematic thread to bind them. While Jon Feinstein's show "Light and Color" shares a similar thematic gloss with "Völuspá" ("science, mysticism, astronomy and the unreal"), it offers fewer works and compensates with photographs that bear a more narrowed, expert focus on their subjects. Noel Rodo-Vankeulen's works, shot in the artless style of the stock image or test photograph, mimic the steady, deadpan eye of Jack Goldstein, undressing rote imagery (geodes, star bursts, and skulls) through an almost empirical gaze. Sunset, from Ann Woo, displays a similar tack, reducing the titular event to a mere swatch of color, the effect simultaneously banal and harmonic.
Downstairs, Charles Benton's Opposing Photographers presents a more conceptual bend from the rest of Young Curators. With two back-to-back slide projectors cued to trade slides of photographers, the work catches the viewer in a crossfire of sorts -- an interactive, if less inspired, update on Janice Guy's seedier works. This dialogue with early conceptual photography is also at play in Amy Stein's artists, who wear their influences on their sleeves (and in their notes: Cindy Sherman, Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Gregory Crewsdon are all payed homage). Dining on the stock gestures of film and TV, the photographs on display aren't nearly as engaging as they are attractive -- they bear far fewer contentions (politically or otherwise) than their predecessors -- and there's a lack of spark because of it.
While Brian Bress' big, slack pictures of thrift store riffraff come off as a bit staid, his theatrical Oh! Hi! -- an otherwise normal photograph of a front yard despite its impishly obscured human subject -- makes a charmingly ribald attack on pictorial space. Bress' flattened planes find a digital counterpart in Laurel Ptak's sprawling, live wire Graphics Interchange Format. With an open-ended premise (Ptak asked 26 artists to deliver a digital GIF image in three days, advocating the use of photographic material) the end results are wildly disparate. While some used it as a vehicle for stop-motion animation and others a chance for more abstract, 8-bit visuals, the best works hatched upon the terse mysticism and flat effect that the GIF is capable of. M. River's bouncy two-tone works, Rodo-Vankuelen's blinking totems or Petra Cortright's mercurial mash-ups of Google Maps and grey windows (of the Operating System variety) affect a near-sublime digital stupor, caught between inspired lyricism, cheap visuals and the GIF's epileptic pace. (Karly Wildenhaus, Asha Schechter, Robert Overweg and Ilia Ovechkin all deliver hypnotic works that are well worth sitting through the entire loop to see). At a gasping 67 works total, "Graphics Interchange Format" finds the GIF at both ends: a medium both saccharine and expansive, going down well in tiny gulps while also offering the possibility of more extensive, starched explorations.