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Jay Maisel Takes a Look at New York Photo Galleries
© Norman Borden, “Jay Maisel, 2010”

Jay Maisel and color photography grew up together. In fact, his name has been synonymous with color photography since the 1950s. He’s won two awards from the American Society of Media Photographers – the Lifetime Achievement and Photographer of the Year, as well as the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award –and he’s a member of the Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame. A graduate of Yale University, Jay has continued his education by conducting numerous seminars and workshops across the country and in his New York studio. Spending a week in one of his workshops this past summer taught me, among other things, that Jay Maisel always tells it as he sees it and he tells it as few others can, even when the subject is about visiting New York’s photo galleries.

NB: What do you like about New York’s photo galleries?

JM: I go to a lot of galleries and it’s sort of like baseball because if I can hit .300, I’m incredibly happy, but seven out of ten shows are shit. One out of ten may be magnificent, but that one is few and far between. When they’re good, they’re the best, but there’s lot of stuff that all I can say is, “I don’t get it. I really don’t get it.”

A few years ago I used to go to galleries with Greg Heisler and between us we had about 80 years (of experience) and then we’d look at it each other and say, “I don’t get it, do you get it?” “No I don’t get it, do you get it?” Sometimes I just wonder what kind of motivation the gallery owners have for putting up this thing. Still, there are a few great galleries that always have good stuff and they’re really wonderful places to go; for example Bruce Silverstein has a good gallery, Pace MacGill, Yossi Milo and Julie Saul show some terrific stuff. Howard Greeenberg has stuff that I know will always be great, but I know there won‘t be anything new there. Howard is one of the best galleries in the world to have really amazing quality stuff. ClampArt from time to time has some very nice things. Hasted Hunt Kraeutler has some amazing shows. The problem is that the galleries that are trying to show new work show crap. I’m not talking about shows that are controversial; sometimes I’m just talking about shows that I just don’t get.

NB: Are those by the new emerging photographers?

JM: Sometimes they’re new photographers, sometimes they’re well-known, but the pictures are terrible.

NB: Is that because the pictures aren’t good or you just don’t like the photographs?

JM: It’s more because I want to like everything that I see. I don’t come with a jaded palate and say it must be traditional. I’m open, but because of the lack of success, I don’t just go as much anymore. I usually like going to museums where I know the stuff is good to some degree and filtered, but then I go to a museum like the Met and I say there’s a lot of crap up here. The Met has wonderful photo exhibits, but whoever is curating some of them, it’s as bad as the Whitney.

NB: Have you noticed a change in the last few years about what galleries show? Does the work seem more pretentious?

JM: I went to a show at a gallery whose name I forget and there was a wonderful video but the paintings by this guy, like 100 of them, were god awful, but that’s just my opinion. I think there’s more of a move to video and many are quite purposeless, very non-objective, the least pretentious way to say it is they’re just boring, endlessly fucking boring. I saw one a few years ago...it was very surprising– the artist had found an area with a lot of wild animals in an adversarial relationship in a contained space and there was a lot of fighting among them. For better or worse, the violence made it interesting, enough so that I would go back to see it again. The subject matter was important. it wasn’t abstract. That’s not to say I don’t like abstract painting because I do, but in video you deal with the actual world and when you bring some insights to the actual world, you have something worthwhile. The videos I’ve seen are of people photographing themselves, not what’s in front of them, they have a real ax to grind one way or the other. I don’t think it brings much pleasure to the viewer. But I could be completely wrong because they keep on showing them.

NB: Do you think the economy has hurt the fine art market in photography?

JM: I’m not really involved in the fine art photography market. I do photography that can be called fine art because it has no purpose in industry, but I’m not au courant as to what’s going on in that area. In general, you find the same thing there that’s true in any area—the best stuff isn’t necessarily the stuff that will sell. And the best stuff isn’t necessarily the stuff that they show.

interview © Norman Borden - all rights reserved.

Jay Maisel Takes a Look at New York Photo Galleries by Norman Borden

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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery