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Friday 12.23.11

« Portland2012 Biennial announced | Main | Bringing Barr »

Last Minute Gift Suggestions for Artists etc.

If you are like me you have some last minute shopping to do and it's mostly for aesthetically conscious thinkers. Over the years I've found that photography books always go over very well. So here are two of my favorites that are in stock locally in Portland. Todd Eberle's Empire of Space and Winter by Jeffrey Conley


Known initially for his defining photographs of Donald Judd's spaces Todd Eberle has gone on to produce a compelling photographic retrospective of architecture, art, portraits and design in book form, Empire of Space.

It isn't just that Eberle has great subjects like; Bill Clinton's desk, Judd's Marfa spaces or MoMA curators. Instead, I think of Eberle's book as a tour de force in the power of aesthetics and the aesthetics of power, which are two different and slippery forces that he keeps in well balanced tension. Eberle has an almost ancient Egyptian eye, in that his near hieroglyphic images always make a dispassionate and intelligently descriptive study of the staying power in people, places and things... that through his lens defy forces of time, all while acknowledging their mortality. Thus, there is a certain existential stoicism at work in every image. Eberle's photos that also constitute a kind of proof of greatness. All of which should tip everyone off as to just how good he is and unlike someone say "Anne Leibovitz"... his photos always have a very intellectual bearing about them. They aren't just photos as a projected and idealized image, they are complicated and conflicting essays on an already apparent greatness with obvious flaws.

Todd Eberle's The Museum of Modern Art (2004)

Though always dispassionate I describe Eberle's hallmak to be a kind of "empirical empathy", in that one doesn't sense Eberle's aesthetic or ethics as a judge or promoter. Instead, he is clearly sensitive to what makes his subjects tick. It makes his photos fascinating and relevant and more than any recent photography book I learn things when I look at this. Any artist, curator, critic or culturally aware person will find this book compelling.

Iggy Pop, Mercer Hotel, New York City (L) 2001, Barcelona-style chair, Museum of the Americas (R) 2003

For example, in the facing pages showing Iggy Pop and an old Barcelona chair he presents the ephemeral grace and temporal fragility in the same stoic tableau. Somehow, he lets viewers drink in that initial moment of discovery and recognition, with a false promise of further intimacy with the space, art and other characters that inhabit his photographs.

I encounter the diptych and think, "Oh, is that really Iggy? Then I wonder why everyone just calls him Iggy as if we are on a first name basis. This gives me an awkward pause, then I think oh ok it's just a photo and his skin is so taut and veiny, making the upholstery behind him seem fleshier and perhaps more alive... is that the joke? Is Iggy just iconic furniture for the mind now? Oh he has intense eyes... and at this point I'm thankful it is just a photograph before Iggy stops merely glaring and says something like, 'what's your problem dumb ass?'" The point is I behave differently when encountering this diptych than I would encountering Mr. Pop and a ragged Barcelona chair (In real life I wouldn't gawk) and it is both the brilliance of the images as well as the layout that lets mental space become analogous to actual proximity. This makes the book both very smart and extremely hopeful. Paging through the Empire of Space gives you permission to be awestruck at a distance.

Thus the book is is both immediate and hands off... and the exact opposite of pornography as Eberle finds the grace in things not as they perform for us but through the ideals they all seem to embody.

These are photographs you can return to again and again in the way most novels cannot hope to compete with. Almost all of the photos are presented as diptychs, with each pair creating a rich dialog in the cultural crossfire between them.

Grandma Swanson's Sofa, Carpet and Painting (L) 1991, Ceiling, Unity Temple (R) 2003

In the opening essay Dave Hickey makes one of his classic (almost Judd-like) and defining remarks, "Eberle's pictures do for magazine photography what Basquiat did for graffiti art." Well that is only partially true, in Empire of Space Eberle updates and diverges from Stieglitz's Equivalents... he reduces iconography to texture and space, somewhat leveling both as we see in his brilliant juxtaposition of his grandmothers couch across from the Ceiling of Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple. Eberle's Grandmother had the same deft design sense we see in her Grandson's work and she encouraged his talent as well.

On other pages Eberle serves up hilarious and telling juxtapositions of John Richardson's keepsake photos and President Bill Clinton's keepsake images. Life is funny and Eberle serves up a wonderful dose of existential poetry with a light dusting of good humor. In an era where class warfare is suddenly the talk of the town Eberle reminds us that greatness can be found on both Grandma's couch and in architecture with lofty aspirations... the trick is to love what you do to make it excellent. It isn't how much things cost, it is how they make the world richer and more worthwhile.

In fact I love this book and find great inspiration in it. I've spent hours paging through with friends and colleagues and it never grows old. Fitting that Eberle is from Florida, he has apparently discovered the secret to a fountain that cheats death and its location is found somewhere between his eyes, finger on the shutter and the final layout. Overall, Empire of Space is highly recommended for anyone who loves culture and thinks with their eyes.

In Portland Empire of Space is available at Monograph Bookwerks... you can get a lot of your holiday shopping done there.

Winter by Jeffrey Conley

Another book I would suggest is the seasonally appropriate Winter by Jeffrey Conley who has a show up at Charles A. Hartman Fine Artright now as well.
On an existential level, Winter brings one close to loved ones and though Coneley's images are mostly from Oregon, they remind me a great deal of Wisconsin. Nature photography is full of hackneyed tropes but Conly has a poets touch.

Zen Hillside 1

For example, Zen Hillside 1 is a gorgeous study in stoic asceticism and works as both a kind of abstraction as well as a location.

Trees and Light

But my favorite is easily Trees and Light. Its abstract properties made up of dark limbs and streaming light satisfy anyone who loves Barnett Newman or Mark Grotjahn... and to me represent the kind of ideal alchemy and sunlight that photography is so adept at.

The book is Published by Portland based Nazraeli Press and Charles A. Hartman Fine Art. Stop in the gallery to see the show and or pick up a print/book.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 23, 2011 at 15:21 | Comments (0)


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