The New York Optimist
November 2008
Was it part of some secret master-plan coordinated by the
galleries this week, or was it an unbelievable coincidence?  Of
the eight galleries with openings we went to, seven of them
were showcasing photography.  Or is it the economical
climate encouraging the sales of more reasonably priced
work, such as photographs which often come in editions,
allowing for lower price tags?  Whichever it is, the results
were rather pleasing.  It was sort of like a photographic
survey, offering a wide variety of approaches and techniques,
subject-matter and intent: from intimate vintage silver gelatin
prints to large-scale digital C-prints on dibond aluminum,
from documentary photography to the imaginary, the
fantastic and the sublime.

Humor, Irony and the Law
Stan Douglas at David Zwirner
533 W. 19th Street
October 30-December 23, 2008
Chelsea Gallery Art Crawl,
October 30th, 2008
Stephan Fowlke
In these massive color photographs, all from 2008, Stan Douglas takes down memory lane, as he focuses on the topic of crowd phenomena in the 20th
century, particularly in his hometown of Vancouver.  For example, “in the work Abbot & Cordova, 7 August 1971 (2008), Douglas stages a scene from the
famous Gastown Riots, which exploded mounting tensions between local hippies and law enforcement.  Striving for historical accuracy, the work replicates
local businesses, as well as music posters and newspapers from the time.”  But beyond his accuracy and attention to historic detail, there is  a grandeur to his
images, not only in their epic scale but in the atmospheres and scenes he constructs.  Literally, they are awesome, spectacular, exquisite.  “The title of the
exhibition is derived from from the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s 1967 essay ‘Humor, Irony and the Law.’  The text argues that in modern times
humor and irony function as viable modes of subverting the law, highlighting the artist’s own modes of questioning the cultural and ideological traditions of
What is not apparent in the final image is the process involved: for example, in Ballantyne Pier, 18 June 1935 (2008), the final work is composed of eight
different shots taken at four locations, and Abbot & Cordova, 7 August 1971 (2008) is composed of fifty different shots taken with the camera in the exact
same position.  Rather impressive!

Rare Vintage Prints 19947-1984
Enrique Metinides at Josee Bienvenu Gallery
529 W. 20th Street
October 30-December 6, 2008
And to continue with the notion of “crowd phenomena” Josee
Bienvenue presents the Rare Vintage Prints of Enrique Metinides,
best known for his images of car accidents, suicides, explosions,
murders, plane crashes and train derailments.  Yet in contrast,
these are not staged scenes:  these are journalistic, documentary
photographs.  “While taking as its initial subject scenes of
wreckage and mutilated bodies, Matinides’ work also focuses on
the gathering of crowds, the bewildered and transfixed passers-
by.  His photographs are poignant examinations of spectatorship
imbued with cinematographic qualities and an otherworldly
element achieved, in part, by the use of daylight flash.  In many
photographs, crowds have gathered around the scene of an
accident but they are not looking atthe scene, they are looking into
the photographer’s lens, they are staring at us.  In that sense, the
photos are less about death than they are about our own
fascination with it.”  As original prints from as early as 1947,
these prints have a ghostly aura of time, softening the harsh
images, just as the pain of a memory can fade with time.  There is
an austere beauty which overcomes the morbidity of the subject,
and the distance of time somehow makes the subject-matter seem
less real, more like a movie set or constructed image.  This is a
complete reversal from Douglas’s work where the opposite is
true:  convincing scenes that seem real, yet are completely staged--
a great diametric opposition.

Kim Keever at Kintz, Tillou+Feigen
529 W. 20th Street
October 30, 2008-January 3, 2009
For a completely different approach to subject-matter
and technique, Kim Keever takes us on a visual journey
into the sublime.  Although predominantly landscape-
based, these images are constructed as dioramas in a
200 gallon fish tank which is then filled with water, lit
with colored lights and affected with pigments added
to the water, creating an augmented and intensified
atmosphere that comes across as other-worldly or
hyper-realistic.  “Referencing a broad history of
landscape painting, especially that of Romanticism, the
Hudson River School and Luminism, they are imbued
with a sense of the sublime.  However, they also show
a subversive side that deliberately acknowledges their
contemporary contrivance and conceptual artifice.  
Keever’s staged scenery is characterized by a
psychology of timelessness....The symbolic qualities
he achieves result from his understanding of the
dynamics of landscape, including the manipulation of
its effects and the limits of spectacle based on our
assumptions of what landscape means to us.  Rather
than presenting a factual reality, Keever fabricates an
illusion to conjure up the realms of our imagination.”
(Man, you’ve gotta love art-speak.)  But the results are
remarkably enticing and and seductive.

Some Planes
Bill Jacobson at Julie Saul Gallery
535 W. 22nd Street
October 30-December 24, 2008
Somewhat more traditional in approach, Bill Jacobson’s landscape photographs of the desert come across as reductive, if not downright minimalist.  With a
limited or toned-down palette and seeming over-exposure, these photographs of the desert emphasize the atmosphere of these environments: sparse, lonely,
desolate, void of humanity.  These landscapes come across as more emotional than physical or literal.  “These are quiet pictures of vast spaces that lack any
obvious reference to human endeavor or presence.  As such, they summon a distinctly human interior-space, the ’intimate immensity’ identified by the French
theorist of intimate interiority, Gaston Bachelard.”

Eye of the Revolution
David Fenton at Steven Kasher Gallery
521 W. 23rd Street
October 30-November 26, 2008

Then onto straight-up documentary photography:
David Fenton takes us back to the late  sixties with a
poignant and immediate first-hand account of the
social, cultural and political climate of the time.  “Eye
of the Revolution” presents us with images of hippies,
“Yippies, Black Panthers, Be-Ins, Weatherman, the
Chicago 7, tear gas, protests, and the years that
changed America forever....Join Fenton on a
countercultural journey from Washington D.C. to
New York City, Oakland and Chicago with stops at
Columbia, Yale and Berkeley, looking at Civil Rights,
the Peace Movement, Black Power, Women’s
Liberation, Gay Rights, Hippies, Police Riots...”  
Although we were questioning the line between art and
documentary, and if it needs to exist, these images hit
their mark, I believe as strongly today as they did
forty years ago.
Recent Drawings and Photographs
Corinne Mercadier at Alan Klotz Gallery
511 W. 25th Street
October 30-December 6, 2008

Corrine Mercadier presents us with both large--almost surreal--staged landscape photographs and very small, pencil, gouache and ink drawings.  The gelatin
silver prints present us with eerie dreamscapes strongly suggesting a psychological realm of dark and light, of fabricated geometries, with the occasional
figure, as in Devant l’escalier de verre/ In front of the glass staircase, where a solitary figure stands in the center of an angular spiral carved out of a field of
snow or a salt flat.  The exaggerated contrast in the grey-scale adds to the surreal quality of the scene.  What makes this work so interesting is that the
drawings, based on Mercadier’s childhood memories, actually inform and inspire the photographs.  Unlike the tradition of making paintings from
photographs, she turns the standard on its head with very pleasurable results.  The haunting imagery has stuck with me, and I take that as a sign of a
successful photograph.
New Color
Susan Paulsen at Deborah Bell Photographs
511 W. 25th Street
October 30-December 24, 2008

Best known for her small black-and-white photographs, Susan Paulsen
presents us here with new, larger color photographs from the past year.  
“The rich and vivid color of her new archival pigment prints call to mind
classical painting.  Details of household items, a sitter’s lustrous hair, folds
of drapery and calming still-life compositions, bathed in subtle yet
luminous natural light, are reminiscent of Vermeer and the Renaissance
masters in their qualities of light, tone and subject matter.”  And honestly,
some of these photographs are remarkably convincing as hyper-realist
paintings.  There is a softness to the natural light that seems to remove the
subjects one step from reality, again somewhat reminiscent of a dream or
memory.  The work can best be summed up by filmmaker Robert Benton
who wrote the essay for Paulsen’s first book, “Tomatoes on the Back
Porch,”  when he writes of her photographs “You will notice they chart a
map of that most ephemeral zone we call intimacy.”  She gives us a very
personal and poignant look at the everyday in such a way as to make it
exceptional, reaffirming that truly, there is beauty everywhere, if only you
take the time to look for it.