at Muzeumm, Los Angeles (through October 21)
Reviewed by Genie Davis
We ain’t gonna take what they’re handing out
When I’m out in the street
I walk the way I want to walk
When I’m out in the street
I talk the way I want to talk
— Bruce Springsteen, “Out in the Street”
Thoughtfully, beautifully curated by Juri Koll, the group show Out in the Street, at Muzeumm through October 21st, is a presentation of both the gallery and The Venice Institute of Contemporary Art. The show features the photographic art of Asif Ahmed, Debe Arlook, Sunny Bak, Hasmik Bezirdzhyan, Nick Bradley, Rodrick Bradley, Larry Brownstein, Cosimo Cavallaro, Ray Carofano, Liz Chayes, Jeremiah Chechik, Diane Cockerill, Lynne Deutch, L. Aviva Diamond, Jenny Donaire, Doug Edge, Maureen Haldeman, Louis Jacinto, Josh “Bagel” Klassman, Juri Koll, Eric Kunsman, Stephen Levey, Lawrie Margrave, Leigh Marling, Alberto Mesirca, Stefanie Nafé, Ave Pildas, Osceola Refetoff, Dotan Saguy, Buku Sarkar, Lana Shmulevich, Carl Shubs, Jeffrey Sklan, Ted Soqui, Stephen Spiller, Stephanie Sydney, Edmund Teske, David Valera, and Jody Zellen.
Each work is an individual piece, but carefully juxtaposed to connect with other images elsewhere in the gallery, whether on opposite walls, or adjacent to them.
Koll says, “Everything is in its place, telling a story about something else nearby, whether it is the shape or an image, the color, an emotion, or an intangible thing. The works also reflect a sense of history, which is something I’ve been concerned with ever since I began curating. Because how would we advance art without that history as its basis?”
For the viewer, each work dovetails nicely with that Springsteen quote: out on the street, anything goes. The photographer can visually “talk” the way he or she wants to talk, creating a visceral portrait of everyday life that is part of a 200-year-old tradition.
Koll says he sought out work that addressed social issues, protest, and creative images of what’s on the street or out the door. From historic artists such as Edmund Teske to today’s diverse mix of Los Angeles-based artists, the exhibition is a tribute to the legacy of street photography, and its future.
According to Koll, “From the moment cameras were invented, photographers took it outside. As a medium, it was originally invented to make painting easier. Nature could be photographed and then recreated on canvas. But people began to use photography to immediately reflect their own selves and how what they saw related to their own personality.”
Certainly, each of the works here reflects not only a vibrant visual aesthetic but the that of the artist creating it. Each photograph is unique, whether its origin is in the world of fine art or photojournalism. While some images are rooted in Los Angeles locales, others are international in scope.
“When I started this show,” Koll explains, “I went in from the standpoint that there is so much street art and so much photography out there. I wanted this photography show to be better than any other.” His personal passion for the medium infuses the art he selected.
Part of this selection involved finding unique works: just about every image in the gallery is fresh viewing: none have been previously exhibited. Another part of his selection process was the desire to reflect a wide range of times and locations; and to present street photography respectfully, as art.
“I try to consider the history of the work, and its origin. Photography is actually my own origin; Ed Teske was one of the biggest influences on my life in terms of photography,” Koll relates.
He notes that “Photographers tend to work in a different sphere than the rest of the traditional art world. But work like this should be taken just as seriously as painting. Many photographs now in museums were originally considered to be ‘just’ documentation. But now they are considered art.”
The art Koll has found covers a wide and impressive visual territory.
There are haunting, fascinating landscapes, such as an absolutely perfect capture of a railroad crossing in a small town by Jeremiah Chechik, it is a visual novel, embedded with detail and longing; or an image of an abandoned burger stand against timeless sweeping mountains and plain, captured on a road trip to New Mexico by Jeffrey Sklan. Stephen Levey gives us desert landscapes that seem almost historic, with the artifacts of abandoned cars in the middle of empty land in “Relic,” and a closed, graffiti-littered waterpark, “Then.” Dotan Saguy makes his “Skater” and the curves of a skate park both take on the feeling of a vast dune against which this traveler’s shadow flies.
People on the street form their own personal landscape. Louis Jacinto captures a powerful, moving portrait of a nursing female mom who is also a clown in “Mama Mine;” in a sorrowful and hopeful “Chicago,” an image of two children by Teske taken in 1938, is a tribute to both the fragility and strength of the human spirit. In L. Aviva Diamond’s “Smoking Woman,” a perfectly composed image of a Cambodian woman smoking a cigarette in a boat is universal in aspect, yet deeply evocative of place. Osceola Refetoff offers a series of wonderful, intimate documentary-style images of men in Tijuana: whether it’s the “Head Butcher” carrying a head of beef or an intense, even sad, man in a chair with arms crossed. Koll’s own work combines landscape with an intuitive sense of humanity – a man slouches in a doorway, another is captured in profile “Man on Bus Looking Left,” both are a part of the place in which they are photographed, as it is a part of them.
Many works are in black and white, and the richer for it; but some pop with color. The pink wall, shadowed by stark sunlight behind Carl Shub’s “Modeling” is the perfect “hot” shade for a photograph that features people taking selfies in front of that neon sunset of a wall. Ted Soqui’s “Sarah,” is a golden-hatted protagonist with a bandana around her face – a protesters “99%” written on it in a red the color of fresh blood.
Other works also give viewers images of activism: Ave Pildas’ series of photos posing different people by the image of an upside down American flag; Diane Cockerill’s abandoned grocery cart and three discarded Christmas trees is poignant but tough minded, loneliness and loss personified in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Soqui also gives us the image of an intense young man in a hat emblazoned “Malcom X.” A digital print of an historic 35-mm negative captures a powerful moment in time with a look at “Anti-War Protesters at the Justice Department” in 1971 from photographer Warren K. Leffler. Truly of this moment, Nick Bradley’s visceral protest scene, “Human Rights” is shot from behind, so that the arms-raised, furry-jacketed protestor could be anyone – just another human, with rights.
Overall, from protest to personal image, this is an exhibition that is quintessentially about life. Life that takes place out in the street – in real time, with real emotions, real fierceness, real joy. It is the wind we feel on a desert plain, the heat of summer in the city, the cold despair of sleeping on the sidewalk — as in Ray Carofano’s “Banjo Man;” the manicured serenity of Debe Arlook’s “Versailles Garden.” It is faces, places, shadows filtering across open land, the skyline of a city, the child turned away from us in waiting, the young man staring past the camera into a future he’s determined to reshape.
When they’re Out in the Street, these photographic artists don’t just talk the way they want to talk, they shoot the images they want to shape. And we’re so much the richer for viewing them.
The exhibition concludes with an artist’s talk and closing featuring Ave Pildas, Rodrick Bradley, and other guests, on Sunday, October 21st. Following the exhibition, Koll plans to release a catalog available for purchase in soft cover, and free online.
Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist, journalist, and produced screen and television writer based in Los Angeles. Publisher and writer of www.diversionsLA.com, she also writes for a wide range of magazines and newspapers.
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