Josh Kolbo

Tony Wight Gallery

“Pictures have a knack for supplanting the concrete, sliding as though self-lubricating around the globe, like poltergeists, they haunt the world they represent like vague recollections, inhabiting concrete forms briefly until slipping off to another host, a billboard here, a magazine page there, creating momentary associations, and chance resonances,” artist Walead Beshty recently wrote. Frustrated by this tendency in photography, Beshty turned to Adorno to explore the ways in which images might be able to “reclaim moments of heaviness,” challenging photographers to engage the concrete. This question is well suited for Josh Kolbo, who had his first solo exhibition this past March. In a room full of C-prints, tenuously affixed to the walls and freestanding ceiling-height frames, Kolbo’s photos were left subject to gravity’s pull. Rather than appearing as static 2-D images, the works assumed sculptural dimensions, draped like fabric. The sheer material veracity of these photographs solidly established the images as present objects rather than fleeting icons to be viewed later via laptop. However, Kolbo’s structural strategy came at a price. Embodied in king-size rolls of photographic paper, regrettably, the work’s materiality trumped its surface imagery, demoting his objects’ pictures to a dreary register of visibility that was difficult for the viewer to access.

In each of the eight works in this show, physicality is foregrounded, every piece flaunting at least two C-prints (each 12' 6“ x 4' 2”) positioned back-to-back so that both recto and verso are frontally photographic—or in other words, so that despite the conventionally held limitations of the medium, these photographs can be read as fully three-dimensional. Kolbo’s sculptural enthusiasm is further underscored in Untitled (Gesture 4) (all works 2011), one of three pieces that integrate a swath of translucent beige latex. The skinlike quality of this diaphanous material interspersed with the glossy Kodak Professional Endura Metallic paper suggests a comparative study of material properties. Positioned high on the wall and attached at only one corner, each of the latex and C-prints rippled downward, creating a repetitive cadence of vertical pleats that echoed the two other similar works. Attempting to reinforce this effect, the difficult-to-parse photographic content included a pool of spilled Coca-Cola, a bright orange extension cord, and the artist’s hand forming the letter T. Yet the object’s grandeur, its interplay of shiny and dull surfaces, its curled volumes, and its overall excessiveness, reaching as it did from wall to floor, overshadowed the ultimately unremarkable pictures it bore. The same held true for Untitled (Rats and Jacks), a sculptural feat that created a pyramidal cocoon embedded with red, black, and white graphic imagery by contorting a full six pairs of prints.

On the other hand, there were two works that underscored the artist’s desire to corroborate the medium’s “heaviness” without yielding to the presentation of folded photographic corpses: Both Untitled (Latex Structure 1) and Untitled (Latex Structure 2), rather than patently evoking the efforts of Robert Morris and Lynda Benglis, were more akin to, say, works by James Welling or Liz Deschenes. Here, Kolbo’s loosely stretched prints photographically displayed enlarged fields of buckled latex. Freestanding, both works take as their material support simple room-height wooden frames and, in ruby-red and black tones, their prints revealed images that clearly mimicked the irregular paper on which they were printed.

Regarding the show overall, perhaps the following could be said: When guided by the structural attributes of analog film, in concert with the scale and plastic qualities of digital-print production, the concrete properties of Kolbo’s work seduced, suggesting a compelling enactment of Beshty’s challenge. But as the wall-based pieces in this exhibition attested, the balance between image and form is precarious—should a photograph be too burdened with materiality, fused with an inert object, its image risks becoming lifeless, unable to support even the most provisional meaning.

Michelle Grabner