Liz Nielsen, Wolf Moon @Denny
By Loring Knoblauch, February 11, 2015
JTF (just the facts): A total of 20 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the smaller back room. All of the works are unique chromogenic prints, made in 2013 and 2014. Physical sizes are either 10×8, 20×20, 24×20, 30×30, 40×40, or 50×40 (or reverse). (Installation shots below.)
Editor’s Note: Liz Nielsen has two concurrent gallery shows open in New York at the moment, one at Laurence Miller Gallery and another at Denny Gallery. While the gallery information, the details of the images on view, and the installation shots are different for the two show reviews, the main text is identical, as the prints on display in both venues are from the same body of work.
Comments/Context: Liz Nielsen’s new work draws her into the loose orbit of a growing group of photographers exploring abstraction via the color photogram process. From Garry Fabian-Miller and Ellen Carey to Walead Beshty and Mariah Robertson, with a splash of Thomas Ruff thrown in for experimental excitement, there’s a burgeoning cohort of contemporary artists exploring the edges of optics and color mixing, using cameraless techniques to generate their often eye popping results.
Nielsen’s contributions to this genre are derived from a remarkably straightforward, hand crafted process. Transparent color gels/filters are sliced and diced and affixed to small glass plates in layered collages; these intimate negatives are then used to generate unique positive prints of various sizes. Along the way, the colors are reversed, red becoming green (and so on around the color wheel, wandering from primary to pastel), the combined cuttings converging to white not black. Chance still plays some role in her color effects, as untried combinations of gels open up surprises and light leaks are allowed to swirl in from the edges.
Compositionally, Nielsen is thinking additively, using primary geometric shapes (squares, circles, triangles, and other scissored polygons) as building blocks, allowing the overlapping membranes of color to create exuberant interlocked forms. Simpler works might employ only half a dozen discrete shapes, while more complex constructions double that number with ease. And while many of Nielsen’s contemporaries have embraced more complete abstraction, her works cozy right up to the edge of symbolic representation. Vertical agglomerations of geometries coalesce into male and female forms like totem poles, triangles jut upward like sharp mountains, and thin strips become the legs of a chair, the flowing tendrils of a grass skirt, or the wavy columns of lit candles. Part of me wishes I hadn’t carried along the checklist that included the descriptive titles, so I could have discovered for myself whether a jumble of shapes was potentially a pineapple, a deviled egg, a tugboat, or a piano; knowing that a composition was supposed to represent (or maybe looked like after the fact) a lamp, or a hive, or a volcano took some of the mystery out of the work, making it feel more obvious and literal. A few works have pushed the experimentation further, with overpainted textures and physical collaging of multiple cut prints, extending the investigations in new directions.
While I’d like to see Nielsen expand beyond centered objects against blank backgrounds into more complicated all over compositions, the playful buoyancy of her works is their secret. They connect back to the lightness of Man Ray, where the everyday could become a source of unexpected delight. These two shows feel like a beginning, a solid starting point for a different path into photogram abstraction, where scientific severity is replaced with easy going contagious joy.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $900 and $5500 based on size. Nielsen’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.