Critics’ Picks

Hollis Frampton, XIV. ROSE (Rosa damascena), 1982, Ektacolor photograph, 20 x 16".

Hollis Frampton, XIV. ROSE (Rosa damascena), 1982, Ektacolor photograph, 20 x 16".

New York

Hollis Frampton

41 Orchard Street
October 25–December 20, 2015

This exhibition of Hollis Frampton’s last major series of photographs, “ADSVMVS ABSVMVS,” 1982, an austere portfolio of fourteen color pictures of desiccated animal and plant remains, represents a belated debut of sorts for the artist. Frampton, a creative polymath whose achievements in film tend to overshadow his writing and photography, has never been the subject of a solo exhibition in New York. “I felt he was someone who was in but uniquely apart from the working art world,” wrote his friend Michael Snow in 1984, shortly after Frampton’s death. Snow, who famously narrated Frampton’s autobiographical film about his early photography, (nostalgia), 1971, has characterized this melancholic late-career work as a “beautiful, stop-time, memento mori.”

Frampton’s subject matter here ranges from flattened roadkill to dehydrated seafood and plant matter, all photographed with the same dispassionate formality against a black backdrop. A note of mourning undergirds the series as well: XIV. ROSE (rosa damascene) depicts a flower taken from his father’s funeral wreath. A Frampton-designed handout offers textual addenda to each photograph. The artist’s absorption with the sensate world of food and nature is palpable in his descriptions (as is his good humor—Constantin Brancusi’s elevation of toads above Michelangelo’s sculptures is mentioned in relation to IX. GARDEN TOAD (Bufo americanus)). Various textual ephemera related to the portfolio’s production are displayed in the basement gallery; they reveal the arc of Frampton’s impish conceptualism. While abstractly interested in photography’s “symmetry with natural processes of mummification,” as Frampton writes in a funding proposal, his project is, as he reminds a colleague in a letter, “a serious parody of a nineteenth-century scientific treatise of a certain kind.”