Left: Mitch Epstein, Gavin Coal Power Plant, Cheshire, Ohio 2003, at Sikkema Jenkins (from American Power), Right: Constable Cloud Study 27 August, 1822, Oil on paper relaid on synthetic board, 18 1/4 x 22 1/2 inches, at Salander O’Reilly Gallery in 2004
For all the talk about the activity of the contemporary art market right now, you’d think there’d be a product to back it. Leaving Chelsea this Saturday I felt like I was reliving the dot com boom: everybody’s investing in empty products that do nothing, and in the case of art this even extends to a formal level. Taking a sampling almost at random Friedrich Petzel Gallery’s Jorge Pardo turns the gallery into a poorly organized interior design store for Williamsburg restaurants, Johannes Vanderbeek at Zach Feuer has created a number of uninspired sculptural works made from observation and vagina bed flanked with gimmicky cotton balls that take the form of faces, and Max Protetch just took down the equally bad lifesized figurative paper sculptures of Oliver Herring. Artist James Turrell wins the prize for the worst art made by the best talent at Pace Wildenstein as he now explores the magic of the hologram. Picture a single glowing minimalist line inside a thin black wall mounted box, and you’ve seen approximately half the show. I’ve already mentally sandwiched this work between the black lights and lava lamps on Canal street, thusly christening the work the most mall ready of 2007. (Editors note: Do check out this ridiculous video of a similar series of works in the show.)
Of the work I saw, Mitch Epstein’s exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins though mixed, is the only one worth discussing. In particular, the photograph Gavin Coal Power Plant, (pictured above,) merits note, as it reminded me of the small paintings in the Constable Skies exhibition at Salander O’Reilly gallery in 2004. Constable of course manages to capture to do in 18 x 22 inches, what Epstein does 70 x 92 inches, but few artists in history manage to top those paintings, so I by no means say this as a slight to Epstein. Both works evoke the sublime, a concept that has always sounded too hoaky to me to actually exist, but for the fact that most of us including myself have at this point experienced it.
Mitch Epstein, Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond, West Virginia (from American Power)
2004, C-print, 70 x 92 inches
Probably the strongest works in Epstein’s show reveal the physical space that manufacturing takes in our lives. Amos Coal Power Plant provides an excellent example of this, documenting the backyard of a property I can’t imagine ever wanting to own, and Ocean Warwick, an oil refinery on water that doubles as beach. Less successful are the works where human presence is made overt, as it always seems as redundant. Niagara Falls, fails on this level as does
Barring these works however, Epstein presents an exhibition that constitute something more significant than its market value. And thank God for that, as there’s nothing more depressing than having to walk around Chelsea looking for art.