VW (VeneKlasen/Werner) is pleased to present an exhibition of works by Jeff Cowen. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Berlin, offering an overview of his work of the past decade with a particular focus on recent works.
For the better part of its brief history photography was largely understood as a tool for recording data rather than as a proper artistic medium. Photography’s status as a lesser art persisted into the late twentieth century, despite the contributions of countless artists from Victorian times, through to Surrealism and on into the Post-modern era. Photography today is accepted as a thoroughly valid means of creative expression; yet the ubiquity of cameras and of photographic imagery in our daily lives makes it easy for us to forget the photography’s complex and still-evolving history. This history is essential to Jeff Cowen’s art.
Cowen mines the whole of photography’s history, employing contemporary and antiquated techniques to create a unique visual style. His carefully constructed, large-scale works conform neither to mass media nor to typical art photography. An encounter with Cowen’s work challenges the fleeting glance which so dominates our current habits as visual consumers. Cowen favors classical genres like landscape, the figure, still-life and abstraction, avoiding the spectacular and thereby forcing the viewer to reconsider what may be taken as familiar. His approach is often described as “painterly” because of his extensive use of darkroom chemistry, painted color and applications of collage, in addition to creative camera work. Absent is the electric glare and glossy surface of all things digital. Cowen’s loving insistence on tactile imagery blurs distinctions of representation and presence, lending his work an uncanny plastic intensity and emotional depth.
Jeff Cowen was born in New York City in 1966. He studied photography with Elaine Mayes and later worked with Larry Clark and Ralph Gibson. As a young street photographer, Cowen examined life in the South Bronx, the Meatpacking District and other “fringe” neighborhoods of New York. His work from the late eighties of photographs documenting the lives of transgender sex workers is in the collection of the New York Historical Society. In the mid-nineteen nineties Cowen began to explore traditional drawing and painting techniques as a means to expand his photographic art. Since that time he has largely abandoned street photography in favor of the studio-based, cross-disciplinary approach for which he is known. Cowen has exhibited his work extensively in Europe, where he is based since 2001.
Cowen’s exhibition at VeneKlasen/Werner is his first solo exhibition in Berlin, where he currently lives and works.