Groups of documentary photos from the fringe fit right in at Gallery 339.
In Review’s 10 photographers seem deeply immersed in thoughts about the fragility of the human condition and the slipperiness of reality. The show, at Gallery 339, is full of quirky and sometimes hallucinatory imagery. The photographers also seem particularly influenced by August Sander, the German photographer whose massive portraiture project “Man of the Twentieth Century,” a documentation of hundreds of Germans, was banned by the Third Reich for not being Aryan enough. Taxonomy rules, with groupings of barns, animals, buildings, teenagers and more.
For example, Phillip Toledano’s portraits of men and women who have had significant amounts of cosmetic surgery reads like a World Book entry on artificial beauty. The C-prints showcase each sitter in dramatic light isolated in a deep black background. Ashley, Justin, Steve and others, dignified and as straight-faced as their modifications allow, resemble the subjects of Edward S. Curtis’ forlorn, iconic photos of Native Americans in the Old West.
Also taxonomic, Isa Leshko’s prints of aging farm animals are a reminder of the inevitability of senescence and death; humans are unique among the animals in our ability to understand and anticipate these things, but they’re topics we usually try to avoid. Leshko’s black-and-white prints offer a different kind of beauty than that of most animal art, which tends to revel in the vitality of the natural. It’s impossible not to feel empathy for 11-year-old Kelly, an Irish Wolfhound who looks arthritic and perhaps blind, or Pumpkin, the beautiful horse whose ripe old age of 28 stirs up thoughts of death. As stand-ins for aging humans, these animals are a speed bump in a show that otherwise moves along straightforwardly.
Chang Kim’s chromogenic prints of buildings plastered with brightly colored advertising signs are big, bold and exotic. The shots, taken in South Korea, are of a world in which advertising has become decor, invading every inch of public space. Kim’s photos are a shock to a Western eye, with buildings resembling gigantic mahjong tile arrangements soaring into the air.
Gabriel Benaim’s gelatin silver prints of a depopulated Tel Aviv, on the other hand, are generic views of the built environment that have almost no emotional impact. Benaim’s shots of the curve of a highway with no cars and a beach with no people are almost chilling in their non-specificity and lack of affect. You want to doubt the generic city, yet you can’t. It’s familiar even if you haven’t been there.
Joel Lederer’s and Kyohei Abe’s digital prints both deal with the longing for a better reality. Lederer’s imagined virtual landscapes are candy-colored, Shangri-La impossibilities. There’s nothing forlorn about the natural scenes of woods and water, but in their suggestion of Candyland perfection, they are a knowing cry that something is wrong. Kyohei Abe’s inkjet prints of small game pieces set in voids of white space likewise suggest childhood and lost innocence.
It’s a solid show, and John Chervinsky’s science-referencing black-and-whites, Hannah Price’s teen portraits, Peter Ainsworth’s concrete-as-skin color prints and Dustin Ream’s tumble-down barns also deserve mention.
Gallery 339’s Martin McNamara organized In Review after seeing the artists’ works in open-call “portfolio reviews,” a nonstandard way of organizing a show in a commercial gallery (it’s more typical of juried shows in alternative galleries). But the professional quality of the work and the universal themes make this “up from the masses” show a winner.
Through Sept. 4
339 S. 21st St.