Pace opens an exhibition of two bodies of work by Paul Graham

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Pace opens an exhibition of two bodies of work by Paul Graham
Paul Graham, WINTER (Hunters in the Snow), Citibank, 399 Park Avenue, 2018 Pigment print mounted to Dibond image, paper and mount, 57-3/4" × 77-1/8" (146.7 cm × 195.9 cm) frame, 73-1/4" × 92 -1/8" × 4" (186.1 cm × 234 cm × 10.2 cm) Edition 1 of 5. Edition of 5 + 2 Aps. © Paul Graham, courtesy Pace Gallery.

PALO ALTO, CA.- Pace Gallery is presenting an exhibition of two bodies of work by Paul Graham as part of the artist’s first West coast show since his 2015 solo exhibition at Pier 24, San Francisco. The series on view in the exhibition—The Seasons and Sightless—were first presented in Pace’s New York gallery in a show that was abbreviated by the pandemic. Graham’s images are on view from September 16 through October 16, 2021 at the gallery’s Palo Alto space.

Over the past three decades, the New York–based artist, who first came to prominence in the United Kingdom in the 1980s with his radical use of color photography, has travelled widely, producing twelve distinct bodies of work, and has been the subject of more than eighty solo exhibitions worldwide. In 2011, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired the complete set of prints from The Great North Road, the original set Graham had used to print his first book in 1983. Graham’s last exhibition in California, titled The Whiteness of the Whale, was mounted at Pier 24 and included three bodies of work made by the artist in the United States between 1998 and 2011. This fall, Graham makes a highly anticipated return to the Bay Area with his exhibition at Pace.

The artist’s latest exhibition takes its title, The Seasons, from the Northern Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s famed series of six paintings depicting rural life in Northern Europe across the different phases of the year. (In Bruegel’s time, the seasons were divided into paired months, resulting in six rather than four.) The works in Bruegel’s series, which includes The Hunters in the Snow, The Harvesters, and The Gloomy Day, are widely regarded as some of the most iconic works in art history.

Graham’s series The Seasons serves as a homage, radical update, and provocative inversion of this seminal group of paintings. In a nod to Bruegel’s series, Graham has created six large format photographs featuring life around the various bank headquarters on New York’s Park Avenue throughout the calendar year. Graham began photographing the major US banks after the 2008 financial crisis, and once he was immersed in the work the artist began to sense the intriguing connection between his images—with their panoplies of human activity spread across sidewalks and courtyards—and Bruegel’s paintings. This inspired him to honor the structure of The Seasons, exchanging peasant life in 16th century Flanders for the finance world of 21st century New York; the imaginative freedom of painting for the veracity of photography; rural agrarian views for urban sidewalks; and agricultural workers for financial ones.

Like all of Graham’s work, these photographs draw directly from life—they are not staged or Photoshop composites. Each image in The Seasons examines the briefest fractions of time—sometimes just 1/1000th of a second—in which humanity is frozen in time, walking, eating, talking, laughing, and gesturing. The photographs are large in scale, and though the works are made using the purest of photographic techniques—a single exposure with a handheld camera—their colors and levels of detail are astonishing and truly mesmerizing.

Accompanying this suite of six works, Graham also presents Sightless, a vintage series of portraits made 15 years ago on 42nd Street in New York. In these images, each individual pictured has their eyes closed, some from walking into low afternoon sunlight, some as they revel in a musical trance, and others simply blinking. The work inverts the conventions of portraiture by embracing the precise instant that would traditionally be rejected by photographers as an unfortunate accident. Viewers are presented with people walking blindly and sightlessly through the city. Embedded in deep Plexiglas mounts, these images reflect Graham’s ongoing engagement with metaphorical and literal notions of blindness. (The artist himself lost his sight for some months during childhood, regaining it after treatment.)

Graham offers provocations in both series showcased in this exhibition: in Sightless, the viewer sees people not seeing, and in The Seasons the artist traces lines between photography and painting, ricocheting between present and past, collapsing centuries of time, and connecting places and situations so very different, yet eerily similar.

Paul Graham (b. 1956, United Kingdom) is a British photographer living and working in New York City. In 1981, Graham completed his first acclaimed work, A1: The Great North Road, a series of color photographs made along A1, Great Britain’s longest numbered road. His use of color film in the early 1980s, at a time when British photography was dominated by traditional black-and-white social documentary, had a revolutionizing effect on the genre. Soon a new school of photography emerged with artists like Martin Parr, Richard Billingham, Simon Norfolk, and Nick Waplington making the switch to color.

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