February 2010

‘Economy of Scale’

Hemphill Fine Arts

Washington, D.C.

Concentrating loosely on the effects of variations of scale, this show of 26 photographs featured work both by established figures such as Sebastião Salgado and Graciela Iturbide and by lesser-knowns. Some offered viewers the disorienting sensations of seeing small objects made monumental, while others reduced the grand to an intimate dimension. Despite this curatorial conceit, it was hard to escape the sense of looking at a grab bag of unrelated pieces.

Some pieces worked well together to sustain the theme; others didn’t quite fit, but were compelling nonetheless. Among the latter was Franz Jantzen’s Grange Hall Exhibits at the Preble County Fair (2008); an enormous collage depicting a table of vegetables, it was notable for its evocation of a decorative Asian scroll print.

The team of Eduardo del Valle and Mirta Gómez photographed castings of toy-size huts arranged atop a rock wall against a blue sky to produce an intriguing collapsing of scale in From the Ground Up: Plaster Molds, Tekal de Venegas, Yucatán, Mexico (2000). Likewise manipulating our perception of architectural subjects, Max Hirshfeld’s color photo W 5th Street, L.A. (2008) reduces skyscrapers and traffic to a tiny jewel of a composition.

The juxtapositions could be theatrical. Frank Day’s diptychs of cartoon-character parade balloons held down with nets, awaiting their triumphant march, posited an almost comic counterpoint to Margaret Bourke-White’s photograph of a dirigible in its hangar, U.S.S. Airship Akron, 1933.

A more menacing union was that of Colby Caldwell’s clinical study of a spent shotgun casing, empties (82), 2009, whose wax surface gives it a painterly texture, juxtaposed with David Burnett’s pigment-print diptych across the room depicting President Barack Obama’s inauguration. With a soft focus that dissolves scale, Burnett’s work evokes that of Hiroshi Sugimoto who, come to think of it, would have fit nicely in this pleasant, somewhat confused show.

–Roger Atwood