Critics’ Picks

Frank Benson, Foam, 2003, pigment print on vinyl, 24 x 30".

Frank Benson, Foam, 2003, pigment print on vinyl, 24 x 30".

New York

Frank Benson

Downstairs Projects
1713 8th Avenue, Brooklyn
March 25–May 20, 2018

The five photographs gathered for Frank Benson’s outing here share a few rigid formal devices. The most recent piece, iChiaroscuro, 2013, goes so far as to suggest a tidy theme: A model rests her head on the piercing white screen of a smartphone—the image’s only light source—which sinks half her face into dramatic darkness. The rest of Benson’s photographs feature the same raking lighting, which heightens the contrast between machine-crisp edges and bubbling, disintegrating shapes. Pitcher, 2003, depicts the titular vessel as a slumping, ribbed mass, glistening in a window. In Tissues, 1998, the earliest work on view, a pert spray of pink Kleenex rising from its box bisects the picture plane. The stale subject, parting the photo into fields of coal black and sea-foam green, carries all the resplendence of a bouquet at twilight.

Each of Benson’s images has been printed on lightly tactile, supremely matte vinyl, which benefits compositions dominated by dry, sucking shadows. We find in this exhibition a concern for texture and depth that can safely be called sculptural. Foam, 2003, for instance, palpably captures knobby cascades of polyurethane frozen on the tip of an orange spray can—lit, of course, from a brilliant angle. There’s some thought given to the selection of objects, but more to the placement of that shape in that light. In some moments, form comes at the expense of the object: for Untitled (Changer), 2008, the artist melted a tray from a five-disc CD changer into drooping black nipples. Like a film photo of a smartphone screen, it is useless, beautiful, and plastic.