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Winogrand snaps feral best of ‘animals’

originally posted by SF Gate, 07-27-2012

Recently the 1960s have resurfaced everywhere in public memory. The Oakland Museum of California has featured “The 1968 Exhibit” (through Aug. 19) as a centerpiece of its 2012 program.

Earlier this year, we saw “Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964″ at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. In 2009, PS1, a satellite of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, presented “1969,” surveying a highly influential passage in postwar art production.

Now we have “Garry Winogrand: Circa 1969″ at Fraenkel.

Winogrand (1928-1984) rejected the concept of “street photography,” whose American idiom critics have credited him and a few others with defining. He claimed that animals were his sole subject. Among them he included people, whom he found at their feral best on city streets and at public events.

There he saw people’s comportment as betraying concern with the impressions they were making on one another, principally strangers. Their awareness of his camera offered merely a special case of an endemic anxiety about or a secret wish for exposure.

Winogrand shot many of the pictures at Fraenkel in New York during the turbulent two-term mayoral administration of John Lindsay (1921-2000).

In many respects, the representative image in this selection is “Hard-Hat Rally, New York” (1970). It records a moment at an event during which anti-Lindsay conservative blue-collar workers collided violently with young antiwar demonstrators, while police looked on passively.

Handheld American flags punctuate the picture like the pulses of an alarm. We glimpse enough of a placard to infer what it says: “Impeach the Red Mayor.” The urgency of people’s expressions – shouting, lunging, reporters thrusting microphones and cameras toward the crowd – charges the image with energy.

Yet at the bottom center of the image stands a little girl, seemingly unperturbed by the tumult engulfing her, staring calmly upward at a reporter straining to clinch his story. A granule of innocence in a tide of conflict, she personifies the luck of Winogrand’s timing.

Post-photographic art at Ridgway: As digital technology and slowly deepening popular skepticism have eroded photography’s documentary credibility, many artists have begun to redefine the terms of the photographic object.

Berlin-based Wolfgang Ganter and San Franciscan Sean McFarland at Eli Ridgway Gallery present fascinating examples.

Study closely a Ganter such as “Untitled (Vorhang)” (2012) and many of its details appear both immensely magnified and permeated by chance effects.

The piece looks as closely related to color field painting as to any obvious photographic source. Yet the bleed of the forms in it and the colors’ transparency suggest photo chemistry at work. Hints of landscape and sky appear, but so vaguely as to suggest mere projection on the viewer’s part.

In fact, Ganter has salvaged discarded 35mm slides and distressed them physically and chemically to originate the large-scale panel-mounted, resin-coated digital prints that we see here.

Full of moody atmospheres and jolts of color, Ganter’s pictures – if that is the word for them – suggest a Romantic vision corroding from within, possibly expressing a veiled suspicion of power and grandiose emotion in all its contemporary forms.

The title of Ganter’s show – “Informel Logic” – refers to “L’art informel,” a European art tendency of the 1950s that, more or less persuasively, proclaimed its freedom from calculated effect.

Sean McFarland offers a single wall full of small, framed sheets, some actual photographs, some purporting to be or to have been inspired by photographs.

Called “Untitled (1948-2012),” the ensemble suggests a single work of conceptual art, but unlike much under that heading, it provokes intense scrutiny. Seldom does information available to the eye align certainly with that given on the show list. That leaves us in the uncomfortable position McFarland apparently thinks we already occupy in relation to all pictures in the post-analog age of the camera.

Garry Winogrand: Circa 1969: Photographs. Through Aug. 18. Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary St., S.F. (415) 981-2661. www.fraenkelgallery.com.

Wolfgang Ganter: Informel Logic: Photographs; Sean McFarland: Untitled (1948-2012): Photographs and other works on paper. Through Aug. 11. Eli Ridgway Gallery, 172 Minna St., S.F. (415) 777-1366. www.eliridgway.com.

For more information: http://www.sfgate.com/art/article/Winogrand-snaps-feral-best-of-animals-3741984.php

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