Along La Brea Avenue: 5 photographers, 4 introductions
In the order that I saw them:
Dong Hoon Jun
Joey Lehman Morris
(back to Dong Hoon Jun)
(back to Joey Lehman Morris)
(also return to Josh Cho)
(one more time! Dong Hoon Jun)
(check in with April Friges)
Ann 330 is in one of the art buildings on La Brea, an old part of town for galleries and one which offers guaranteed parking tickets and towing after 4 pm. (Like La Cienega, La Brea is a freeway in disguise: La Cienega is in light industry drag and La Brea is a cool retail hub.)
The show (titled Saudade) includes several works by each of four artists – enough to make me come home and look up the work I did not recognize, and to reassure my thoughts on things I had seen in the past.
The work of Dong Hoon Jun is described in the press release as remarking on the peculiarity of North American institutions of higher learning (you know who you are) to mimic corporate architectures. (And, I would add, adopt corporate strategies for monetizing their product – students, and their loans. But I digress.)
Dong’s photos show the artist playfully inhabiting classrooms and administrative offices, hiding his identity in a box, behind a shade, crawling partly inside or behind almost any container or potential shield. They are funny pictures and the artist’s play with identity goes somewhere beyond humor to darkness. Again, the pr tells me that Dong explores how creativity may adapt to space that is designed to “contain, divide and conform,” and I see this, and grant the importance of this question, but something more is going on, I wonder about the artist’s hiding, the denial of presence while appearing in place – does it make me think of fear? His or her fear? My own fear – of an interloper I cannot identify? And my experience as a viewer – the first thing I look for in a picture is a face, and here I am frustrated.
So I came home and looked things up.
Pretty f*cking cool. Yay Dong Hoon Jun, it’s nice to meet you.
Kristine Thompson last year curated at the UCR California Museum of Photography a show of work Joey Lehman Morris. The show, titled But First, Define the Mountain, included photos from the current series Grading Southern California as well as another series of larger prints which were organized around the idea of “unmaking mountains.”
Morris frames his clearly defined statements about the American West, its iconography, its mythology and its destruction in elegant wood frames, the reveals are darkened, the photographs feel pre-objectified – by which I mean that Morris seems to presuppose and outflank our tendency to aestheticize and make precious such photographs as this by packaging them as already precious objects.
A long time ago photographers took pictures of the land that were formally beautiful and harrowingly fierce in their loving, almost abstract rendition of mundane landscapes. (There may have been a political edge to these pictures, as they were all of newly developed and still being built land – I don’t know. It is, after all, development from which we all have prospered and that we embrace, so any criticism in the art served us with a wink and as an outlet for our group melancholy at what was being lost, what we were throwing away.) We took those photos and we made monuments of them and worshiped them in the way we do the razor clean edge of Modernist design. Although the artists insisted otherwise, I think their audience accepted that the beauty lay in the photographs themselves and not in the earth that was pictured. A user friendly, self-service transcendence had been achieved into which we could dip at will. This might be a step in our ongoing disengagement of value from real terms.
Which brings me up the street to Fahey/Klein. Lena Herzog’s tiny panoramic photographs show mysterious rocky landscapes, a curious Jules Verne style helium aircraft as it navigates the air over a jungle, another artist’s giant sculpture as it walks along a beach, and a series of tree or forest studies. These are beautiful black and white pictures and have an incredible density in the images – I feel like I can see grains of sand on the beach and feel the very visible texture of the tree bark. That transcendance that I mentioned above? Here it is again, in spades. In fact – and here is where a danger lurks – these gold and selenium toned silver gelatin photographs look… sublime. Expensively so. They might not be expensive, in relative terms, but this is what my mind does with this type of sublime.
I want these objects with their fine details, supreme craftsmanship, their tiny bits of light organized with great care to create images that confound and compel me. I stare longingly.
But then I turn away in shame at the classist desire that is building inside of me.
The danger I mentioned is of art using its ability to achieve the sublime to no better end.
And here’s a thought that throws my argument into disarray: the politicizing and psychologizing and fretting is mine. The artists may have another idea of what they are doing. But what worries me, and what I suspect, is that Herzog makes fantasy photographs in jungles with balloons and on North Sea beaches and in icy forests, and the sublime we attribute to this kind of photography she accepts and redoubles in rich layers without wincing even a little because what she puts on the wall looks as much like Jesus Christ as a million dollars. (Metaphorically speaking.) Down La Brea in Saudade, Joey Lehman Morris’s knowingly precious landscapes and Josh Cho’s installation of a plexi sculpture with unexposed photographic paper collected from trash bins, as well as April Friges’ color pictures of old houses on blocks (photos which match in detail and clarity the images of forests and beaches), these all seem to share a worry about – and in fact these projects seem to investigate – value: of themselves as art objects, of what is being pictured (be it throw away land or paper with potential images or houses) the value of my judgment as a viewer and even the values I hold for myself.
These are four young photographers who are showing, not for the first time and certainly not the last, but right now together, in one place. It would be good to acquaint yourself now artists whom you will have cause to remember and see again in the future.
They are showing highly individual work and that I lumped three of them together and barely wrote about two at all makes no case for anything in their work. (Go see.) Josh Cho also shows another body of work that I don’t mention because I wrote about it in a post on the UCR MFA Thesis show at Las Cienegas last year, and of April Friges’ work I only saw two pieces before I had to leave – having now visited her website, I look forward to seeing more.
Saudade and Panaromas at Ann 330 and Fahey/Klein are closing on March 3. Fahey/Klein also has historical work from the gallery’s extensive collection on view.
Ann 330 Gallery: http://ann330gallery.com/exhibits/201201/
Fahey/Klein Gallery: http://www.faheykleingallery.com/exhibitions/exhibitions_frames.htm
April Friges: http://aprilfriges.com/
UCR CMP show: http://www.cmp.ucr.edu/exhibitions/joey_morris/
Lena Herzog: http://www.lenaherzog.com/