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Art Review: Gerald Hill

CityArts is currently showing the work of photographer Gerald Hill in the solo exhibition Black and White Photography from Gerald Hill.  Hill’s practice spans over 30 years. During this time, he gained representation through galleries in Dallas, Kansas City, Santa Fe, and Topeka. The camera manufacturer Canon has awarded and licensed his photographic work on the National Park System as well.

Hill’s photography resembles 19th century Romantic landscape painting and will also look familiar to any fan of Ansel Adams.  The subject matter of his photography typically concerns national parks, landscapes, and empty architecture. He divides his body of work into three categories: Abstract/Contemporary, Classic Americana, and Traditional Landscapes. In the CityArts exhibition, visitors will see black and white images from each of these categories.  

Over 50 of Hill’s images line the perimeter of the Main Gallery.  His extensive collection of photography is technically proficient and compositionally solid, but the subject matter is, at times, all too familiar.  His photographed scenes are, however, pleasant and easily enjoyed.

The major disappointment for the show is in his presentation. Hill mounted his photographs on gatorboard – a material much like foamcore, but stronger – which hangs on the wall with basic sawtooth hangers.  This is a lazy presentation.  I can only assume that he chose these inexpensive materials to lower the cost of his work for both himself and the potential buyer.  Unfortunately, what he made instead was an expensive piece of gatorboard that no gallery would call “fine art.”

The other complication in the presentation: gatorboard is lightweight and shifts with the slightest breeze, which means his work does not stay level on the wall. Unless someone is dedicated to constantly straightening the work, the show will remain in an unkempt state, as it did when I viewed it. 

Finally, in tandem with this troubling material decision, Hill printed his photos in all the same size. The only variety is when vertical compositions interrupt the stream of horizontally hung work, which ends up reading like the dots and dashes of Morse code. With this visual rhythm and titles that state the subject matter of the photograph, one can move quite quickly through Hill’s show.

I have been to CityArts many times and enjoyed their installations (see Makes It Into Matter), but Hill’s exhibition proves that even with strong work, a weak presentation can undermine the quality of the entire show.

Black and White Photography from Gerald Hill is on view from June 27 – July 21 at CityArts. CityArts is located at 334 N Mead, Wichita, KS 67202 and can be reached at (316) 462-2787. Gallery and Gift Shop Hours of Operation: Mondays-Thursdays, 10 am-9pm; Fridays, 10am-5pm; Final Fridays 10am-9pm; Saturdays, 10am-4pm

This article has been revised to reflect the following corrections:

Correction: March 23, 2014

A previous version of the article misstated the licensing of Gerald Hill’s photographs by the National Park System. Hill’s photographic work of the National Parks System was awarded and licensed by the camera manufacturer Canon.

This article also imprecisely described the photographic subject matter displayed in the exhibition by implying that there were both scenes with people and scenes without people. All of the photographs on display were scenes without people.