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Picture this: a photography lover goes to Manhattan for two days, two days. A lively start to the fall season is underway in the museums and galleries of the city that never sleeps. What to see? Here are my top picks for those who are lucky enough to be in NYC, long on interest and short on time.
Diane Arbus: In the Beginning presents over 100 never-before-seen photographs that capture the earliest stylistic signals from this amazing artist, from 1956 to 1962, when she still toted a 35mm camera. I particularly liked seeing the way Arbus progressed over seven years from fairly shy to unabashedly curious. A few of her iconic later works dot the main exhibit (perhaps as visual guideposts to the future) in a room which is arranged in an array of individual pillars, signaling that it is not to be considered a single body of work. There are additional treats in the two back rooms: 10 photographs from one of Arbus’s first portfolio boxes (an intriguing look into the choices she made) and a tasty contextualization of the artist’s work with other photographic greats who came before and after her. At the Met Breuer through November 27, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2016/diane-arbus
Sally Mann: Remembered Light: Cy Twombly in Lexington is the photographer’s homage to her lifelong hometown friend and mentor, artist Cy Twombly (1928-2011), taken in Lexington, Virginia between 1999 – 2012. With work in large and small format, shot in B&W and a very bleak, yellowish-cast color, the work is more highly variable than any I’ve seen before by Mann. This surprised me, but I can’t believe it was unintentional. Some images seem like she was absently shooting while they conversed, others were carefully attentive to composition and light. One entire small room of B&W’s (among my favorite) was overexposed and grainy, imbuing the images with a otherworldly veil of light. A study of presence and absence, the collection takes on a deeper resonance with the knowledge of Mann’s recent loss of her son. At Gagosian through October 29, 2016. https://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/sally-mann–september-22-2016
A New and Mysterious Art: Ancient Photographic Methods in Contemporary Art is a deeply satisfying group show featuring a handful of today’s “alternative processes” masters who display the magnificent variety of visual and emotional expression enabled by ancient methodologies (which are deftly explained). Knowledgeably curated by Daguerreotype expert Jerry Spagnoli, I only wish it were a bigger show. At Howard Greenberg Gallery through October 29, 2016. http://www.howardgreenberg.com/exhibitions/a-new-and-mysterious-art Read my review of this show at: http://elinspringphotography.com/blog/ancient-photographic-methods-in-contemporary-art-at-howard-greenberg-gallery-nyc/
Alex Webb: La Calle, Photographs from Mexico is a 30-year retrospective of Webb’s repeated journeys to this ever- and never-changing land. The exhibit not only reminds us of why Webb’s work is so astoundingly layered and compelling but adds an enlightening historical perspective on Mexico’s persevering people. For those who live in Boston, great news: the show will be coming to Robert Klein Gallery this winter. For those who can’t make into one of these galleries, Aperture has published a terrific exhibition catalog. At Aperture through October 26, 2016. http://aperture.org/exhibition/alex-webb-la-calle/
Mitch Epstein: Rocks and Clouds is not only a large-scale meditation on the earth and the sky but a philosophic perspective on the slices of NYC that are wedged in-between. To assign a genre would be an injustice, because the photographs are as big emotionally as they are physically. Shot with a large-format camera and B&W film, the effect is expansive, monumental, stormy – sometimes by turns, other times all at once – transcending their elements. At Yancey Richardson through October 22, 2016. http://www.yanceyrichardson.com/current/
Sally Gall: Aerial is a flowing, billowy series of large color photographs that elevate ordinary laundry drying on outdoor lines into a celebration of humanity. As uplifting as the wind, Gall’s unique upward gaze swirls reality into abstraction, twisting colors and textures in the sky into jubilant breaths of fresh air. At Julie Saul Gallery through October 22, 2016. http://www.saulgallery.com/exhibitions/2016/aerial/aerial#1
Marco Breuer: Silent Speed is his latest camera-less, inventive foray into purely abstract photography. Rooted in the interplay of positive and negative space, Breuer’s high-gloss, irregular shapes are joyful riffs that have the ability to coax an hourglass into a tornado into loose-limbed dancers spinning and jagging through space. In a rare, amusing Polaroid sequence, Breuer positions himself in the shape of his abstractions, available as a free 16-page B&W newsprint tabloid during the run of the exhibition. At Yossi Milo through October 29, 2016. http://www.yossimilo.com/exhibitions/2016_09-marco_breuer/
Christopher Colville: Beyond Reckoning is a story of volatility, as told through a series of violently produced photograms made with the discarded remains of target practices, traces of gunpowder and fire in the American Southwest desert. Colville’s unique prints suggest underlying cultural flashpoints while exuding a luminous aura, at once earthy, textural and abstract. At Rick Wester Fine Art through November 19, 2016. http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/exhibitions-archive/2016/7/15/beyond-reckoning
Molly Lamb: Home and Away is three suites of ethereal color photographs – Ghost Stepping, Let It Go, and Take Care of Your Sister – conceived like parts of an ongoing narrative poem tracing Lamb’s search for a sense of home in the American South. Her sensitivity to shadow, light and reflection describe memory and loss with lyrical delicacy. At Rick Wester Fine Art through November 19, 2016. http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/exhibitions-archive/2016/7/15/home-and-away
Ruddy Roye: When Living is a Protest features 22 large color portraits from the Jamaican photographer’s ongoing Instagram-based documentaries of individual hardship and perseverance in NYC, particularly his own Brooklyn neighborhood, which he gathered throughout 2015 – 2016 as the Black Lives Matter movement has grown. Roye’s keen and sympathetic eye captures the vibrancy and empowerment of a community under fire, accompanied by his equally compelling storytelling. At Steven Kasher through October 29, 2016. http://www.stevenkasher.com/exhibitions/ruddy-roye-when-living-is-a-protest
Feature Image: From the series “When Living is a Protest” (detail) by Ruddy Roye (courtesy of the artist and Steven Kasher Gallery, NY).