Typically, when I’ve visited TEFAF (short for the European Fine Art Fair) in the past, I’ve been most attentive to the paintings, but this time, objects that had been on my periphery came into clear view.
The first set of objects that mesmerized me were the copper photogravure printing plates of Edward S. Curtis presented by the Bruce Kapson Gallery. I understand that Curtis is a contested figure. He was an ethnographic photographer whose massively comprehensive project, The North American Indian, documented about 82 Indigenous American tribes in images that established for outsiders blinkered and stereotypical understandings of Native Americans. But I had never seen the plates up close. They are set within pristinely clear acrylic fields that mimic fine art photo matting with an outer frame of gleaming copper that mirrors the plates. The figures in the plates seem etched with graphite, dark against the sanguine backdrop in extravagant detail. Hair pulled into winged buns, birch bark, and still water all seem carved out of the world with a devious knife. I would rather look at the plates than the photo images made from them just about any day.