For Boston-area photography lovers, Christmas comes early this year, courtesy of Gallery Kayafas and “Collection Selections.” The show consists of 21 photographs from the holdings of several local collectors. It runs through Jan. 5.
All of the images are choice. Some are very familiar, and justifiably so: Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s “Assassinated Worker,” Berenice Abbott’s “Newsstand,” Harry Callahan’s head-above-water “Eleanor.” Others deserve to be more familiar than they already are: Frank Gohlke’s “Minnesota,” with its juxtaposed lightning bolt and grain elevators; Duane Michals’s “Magritte, Brussels,” a drily witty diptych showing the famous Surrealist fore and aft; Garry Winogrand’s 1958 view of a man seemingly decapitated by the Coney Island boardwalk — a picture as witty as Michals’s, but broad in its wit rather than dry.
No less witty is the hanging of the show. Visual and thematic interrelationships proliferate. By the entrance to the gallery is Massimo Vitali’s 2004 photograph of an Italian hypermarket. “It’s supposed to put you in the mind to shop,” deadpanned an uncharacteristically avaricious Arlette Kayafas, the gallery’s director. (Her husband, Gus Kayafas, proprietor of the estimable Palm Press, curated the show.) The mercantile theme takes nutritional form — or not — with William Eggle-ston’s image of a display of packaged junk foods. Next to the Eggleston is a photograph by his friend William Christenberry of an egg-carton cross. A few photographs away is a rare Helen Levitt of a carton of eggs. On a facing wall, Michals’s Magritte portrait is next to August Sander’s “Painter.”
You can see how the associations shift and multiply. At least one of them may even traduce freedom of the press. The selection of magazines and newspapers shown by Abbott sits next to a Walker Evans photograph dominated by a spill of trash. Let’s hope the connection isn’t (ahem) metaphorical, but instead the two photographers’ friendship.
The interplay of images extends to the other two shows at Kayafas. Adam Davies’s “Cloud, Marfa, TX,” with its magnificent view of a looming storm on the Great Plains, would please Gohlke very much. Davies uses a large-format camera to take large, delicately colored landscapes. How large? Ten of the 11 pictures in “Liminal Spaces” are 32 inches by 40 inches; one is 40-by-50. All of the photographs are unmatted, which makes them seem even larger — or at least more assertive.
Davies is drawn to the fault line between the natural and man-made. “Penzg Track, Philadelphia, PA” shows saplings beneath a viaduct. A strand of ivy twines around one of the concrete abutments in “Kelly Avenue, Baltimore, MD.” Or the fault line can be between camera and brush. “Marconi Station Road, Wellfleet, MA” could be a Fairfield Porter canvas, only Porter never had such a mastery of fine detail. Or there’s the impressive texturing of shoots and tendrils in “Beech Forest, Provincetown, MA.”
Brett Angell, a senior exhibtions preparator at the Museum of Fine Arts, assembles boxes in his spare time and puts collages inside them. There are more than 30 boxes in “Addicted to Sadness.” The title belies the effect of these works, which is slyly deadpan and elegantly sexy. Looking at them is like spying on a double date with Joseph Cornell’s boxes (delicate, lunar, fecundly inhibited) and Terry Gilliam’s animation (outrageous, earthy, cheerily prurient). Certain motifs recur: Dutch interiors, the ocean, bared female breasts, lizard tails, Medusa heads, sailing ships. Those vessels nod to “Collection Selections”: A sculpted sailing ship may be seen in a Lee Friedlander photograph of the monument in Newbury honoring the town’s original settlers.
Also on display are nearly a hundred of Angell’s “Cigarette Boxes.” He’s taken actual cigarette packs, emptied them of their original contents, and collaged the interiors. They’re like homes for nicotine-nostalgic netsuke. Investors, take note. The boxes go for $100 each. The way the price of of a pack of cigarettes keeps going up, Angell’s versions may be cheaper soon than the real thing. Already they’re a lot healthier. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.