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BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

by Beatrice Thornton
 
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Perhaps the most talked about artwork at the recent 2011 Armory Show in New York was the full-sized neon fence, a wrought-iron-styled thing in glowing light, which stood guard around the plot of Pier 94 labeled on the fair’s map as “Paul Kasmin, booth 1070.” Crafted by the Chilean artist Iván Navarro (b. 1972), The Armory Fence is accompanied by a new series of the artist’s signature illustionistic neon "doorways" -- still an amazing effect -- at the Kasmin Gallery in Chelsea. Dubbed “Heaven or Las Vegas,” the show features wall-hung light boxes whose shapes are based on the floor plans of 12 of the world’s most famous skyscrapers.

Neon is a latecomer to the notion of “drawing with light,” a phrase that was used to characterize photography early on. Kasmin Gallery makes this correlation in its smaller storefront space around the corner from its main gallery with “Drawing with Light: Paper Negatives, 1842-1864,” a selection of 22 negatives and prints organized in collaboration with Hans P. Kraus Jr, the noted Upper East Side dealer of 19th-century photography.

The emphasis on paper negatives of early calotypes gives the show a strangely avant-garde frisson, as if uncovering the forgotten source of modernists like Man Ray and contemporaries such as Vera Lutter. The sense of far-flung discovery is reinforced by many of the images themselves, which, as the gallery points out, range from "scenes of antiquity" to "bird's eye views of foreign skylines."

Among the photographic luminaries in the exhibition are Louis-Alphonse De Brébisson, Frédéric Flachéron, Dr. John Murray, Charles Nègre, Louis-Rémy Robert and John Wiggin. The British "father of photography," William Henry Fox Talbot, is represented by two calotype negatives: Charles Porter and Another Man, Seated at a Table with an Urn (ca. 1842-43), and Magdalen Bridge, Oxford (1842). Due to their early dates, sensitivity to light, extreme rarity and high prices -- around $200,000 -- the photos are each protected by a swatch of velvet cloth, which must be lifted for viewing.

Especially alluring are Murray's travel photographs, made while he was stationed as a doctor in India in the mid-1800s. His ca. 1864 waxed paper negative of the Taj Mahal shows an unfamiliar view of the monument surrounded by an overgrowth of lush foliage, and the traveler's impression of a landmark spotted among dense forest also characterizes The Mosque at the Taj Mahal (1864) and the waxed paper negative View of Lake (ca. 1858-62). These works have a particularly noteworthy provenance, as they come directly from Murray’s descendents.

Iván Navarro, “Heaven or Las Vegas,” Mar. 3-Apr. 2, 2011, at Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 Tenth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10001.

“Drawing with Light Paper Negatives, 1842-1864,” Mar.3-Apr. 2, 2011, at Paul Kasmin Gallery, 511 West 27th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.


BEATRICE THORNTON is a contributor to the Magazine Antiques and Modern Magazine.