The distance between The Solitude of Ravens and the meaninglessness of Leiter is not so far.
It isn’t often that I go to so many exhibitions in a day, I can think only of festivals such as Arles where the availability of work in such close proximity encourages that multiplicity. I also wonder whether it’s a good thing to see works that are so diverse, that the order of viewing will undoubtedly alter how they are received. It therefore follows that narratives ‘spill-over’, that the disparate works start to combine and one comes away with an ‘over-arching’ perspective of narrative albeit with multiple strands vying for attention.
And so it was when I went to three places to view works: The Michael Hoppen Gallery – just off the Kings Road – to see “The Solitude of Ravens”, followed by Saul Leiter’s retrospective at The Photographers Gallery and then Jolanta Dolewska’s PV for her new work “Resevoir” at the Rough Print Gallery in Hackney.
“Are you for the Raven’s?” I was asked as I entered the security controlled entrance to the gallery. “Do I look like a Raven sort of person?” was my response before being quickly ushered upstairs. There are quite a few prints, perhaps thirty; the Hoppen gallery has seemingly struggled to fit them in in the first floor gallery space. Fukase’s work is iconic, on the one hand it is a reflection of the artist’s response to his wife divorcing him, the reason for the divorce is not explained and I am not concerned, on the other it has been vested with an art-historical significance.
There are no prices on the wall, just a mixed set of images, a pleasant geometric hanging with several “twenty by sixteens” surrounded by the majority of “ten by eights” all in black edge frames. The images themselves are a mixed bag of aesthetics, some full bleed extended over the film rebates, some with dark borders, others still without any kind of bordering. They are all silver gelatin, though the tone of the prints vary from almost sepia – noted as ‘vintage silver gelatin’ in the solitary catalogue that sits on the table in front of the images. Whilst some are less ‘vintage’ though it has to be said that they all have a warm tone – similar in many respects of Agfa Portriga – maybe it is Seagull. Of course I didn’t ask the attendant, it being a question vested in a modernist heritage.
There were no notes as to the curatorial decisions, so I was left to decide that they were hung to look pleasingly balanced on the wall and then I looked at the catalogue on the table. The prints were priced from £14,000 to £28,500 each – though there was a stipulation that a set of three were only going to be sold as a triptych – their price was £28,000 each (£84,000 and no bogof seemingly).
I took the opportunity as I had time to spare at The Photographers Gallery to view the other exhibitions: Luke Dodd’s curation of Sean Sexton’s archive of the 1916 Easter Uprising, which seemed to be about the correspondence between differing perspectives claiming primacy on the basis of the indexical properties of the photograph. Interesting, but not taking the argument any further forward in my view. Lots of contemporaneous mediated images.
Saul Leiter made beautiful images. He made images of women for fashion magazines, he wandered around his locality in New york and made images in the style of those fashion images. His aesthetic is immediately obvious, muted colours, reflections, stripped-back and utterly meaningless. Fashion photography is of course only ‘about’ one thing, that of the inducement of the viewer to the urge to consume. It is a psychological collaboration between the market and consumer. So the images are likely to be enticing, seductive, alluring and erotic. They are, and I would love to have many of them on my wall, their purpose is solely about how sexy they look. And while Fukase’s work stemmed from a psychological need to express his response to a personal issue, Leiter’s work is as a Flaneur in New York; a ‘home-boy’ transliterating the dank streets to objects of fantastical beauty in a style honed over decades.
Jolanta Dolewska’s work was, almost in every sense, diametrically opposed to both Fukase and Leiter. The visitors to her PV outnumbered the prints on the wall by about four or five to one – there were six images on the wall. The beauty in her work wasn’t about the depth of craft, though the artist had a demonstrable capability in print – curiously all the exhibitions featured silver gelatin analogue printing, the former almost completely (though Leiter had colour prints as well), it was Doleska who also utilised digital technology as well. I had met Jolanta when I attended the Family Ties Network event in the Glasgow School of Art, she resides in Edinburgh, so this was an event a long way from home, although she had graduated from the RCA.
When bringing work into a public space, I have the distinct impression that one releases the control over so many aspects of the work, but perhaps most notable the narrative. Fukase’s work was about his reaction to the divorce from his wife, but in the Hoppen gallery it becomes something else. The Bentley’s that line the King’s Road in Chelsea not far from the Lamborghini show room, situates the gallery in a space that orientates the work as commodity. If ever we, as viewers of ‘artwork’ are to be infected with ‘awe’ it will surely be in security controlled showrooms whose attendants can spot a ‘Raven’ at fifty paces. Had I been a peacock my reception may have been different. Similarly the reverential hanging on the ‘top-floor’ of Leiter at TPG designated the work to be part of the commoditised world that he dwelt in for most of his professional life – images as alluring commodities in a consumer society, as Berger once said “Pictures as Objects”.
Of all the work on show during ‘exhibition-day’ I liked Leiter’s the most, he was a master at what he did, and what he did was to tempt and as Wilde famously said, I can resist everything except temptation. However the only narrative that stayed true to purpose was Dolewska’s, not that she described in her artist talk what that narrative was ‘about’, but rather she presented her work withing the context of her practice and invited us, the viewers, to make of it what we would.
I thought the artist talk was a good idea however the interview technique seemed to falter as it appeared that her interviewer hadn’t discussed anything with the artist prior to the event, expecting I’m assuming that they would ‘wing-it’. It stuttered and failed to come alive, which is a shame, but it is something that I might consider for my work when I release it. It was interesting to chat with her and her collaborator about her work prior to the talk, contacts for the future.