Friday, June 06, 2008

In an exhibit at the City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower, photographers Jason Lazarus and Brian Ulrich were commissioned by art and design auctioneer Richard Wright to photograph auction lots about to go under the hammer at Wright’s auction house, wright20. For this project they were given total access to Wright’s warehouse and the various works contained there, which could be anything from oil-on-canvas painting, to designer lights and chairs.

Jason Lazarus’ photography reveals an iconoclastic personality combined sensitivity to composition. One of the first images one encounters is Jenny Holzer, Over and Over Again which is an image that results from a long film exposure to a LED sign programmed to scroll through Holzer’s signature phrases. What one immediately notices is that result of this exposure is a pleasing Rothko-like effect of a soft transition from black to orange, getting brighter near the light source, however it feels somehow like a dig on Rothko. On further reflection it is also hard ignore how Holzer’s well-meaning “truisms,” slogans like “private property created crime,” “abuse comes as no surprise,” etc. can quickly turn from revolutionary phrases to radical-chic cliché. With constant repetition these phrases become a blur, Lazarus depicts.

My favorite image from Lazarus was Looking at the Back of an Ad Reinhardt. As a rule the public never gets to see the back of a painting. Once a painting is installed in its niche it is inviolate, however the back of painting are usually quite interesting as they usually tell a story. The Ad Reinhardt painting pictured had traveled to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, been auctioned several times and apparently switched names several times as well, finally ending up with the title Ultimate Painting, No. 19. It was also obvious that the painting had once been hung at a totally different orientation with titles crossed out, new arrows emphatically swooping around to point up and, just so there was no more confusion, the words “TOP” inscribed twice, also with arrows. For all the rhetoric and aura surrounding Reinhardt’s dark-on-dark work, apparently it has been difficult to hang the Ultimate Painting.

Brian Ulrich was an interesting comparison and companion to Lazarus because they work markedly different styles. Where Lazarus was often more literal, Ulrich tended to be more formal and classic, showing several totally abstract photographs as well as portraits--of people and things.

Ulrich has several images on exhibit of objects in the warehouse awaiting display and one image of an empty warehouse with areas taped off for upcoming occupancy. Much more of the surroundings that these pieces are housed in became apparent and their weird isolation from either a home or a museum. Lamps huddled together as seemingly truly anxious objects.

In portraiture photographs Ulrich really seemed to excel, capturing his subject in introspective moments of reverie during what seemed to be otherwise a very busy moment. In Jonathan at the Warehouse Ulrich photographs his subject in white gloves handling an abstract canvas. His expression of apprehension combined with the reverence of the white gloves exemplifies part of the legacy of the Abstract Expressionists that is still with us. Also, he probably didn't want to drop the painting.

About Art should not be missed because it features the up-and-coming in Chicago: Jason Lazarus, Brian Ulrich and certainly not last or least at all, Richard Wright who made this exhibit possible.

-Abraham Ritchie

(Photo: Jason Lazarus, Back of an Ad Reinhardt, 2007 courtsey the artist and Bucketrider Gallery)


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