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Allan Sekula: Early Works, at Christopher Grimes Gallery displays the scatterings of early projects and sketches for works the artist would later further develop. For Sekula, a stripping away of novelty was his primary impulse. He employed simple, documentary photography techniques in an attempt to remove formal flourish and evoke the critic’s furrowed brow. Sekula’s pictures were, in his words, “part of a search for a certain ‘realism’, a realism not of appearances or social facts but of everyday experience in and against the grip of advanced capitalism.” (1)
The show offers a rare glimpse into the naive inquiries of a young, political artist. In his early works, Sekula turned his camera towards education (School is a Factory, 1978/80), leisure (Long Beach Notes, 1980) and the artist himself (Aerospace Folktales, 1972/73). While the critical scope of these works is limited, and with decades of distance can feel a bit quaint, they trace the early stages of what would later become Sekula’s attempts to represent global capital.
Allan Sekula’s fixation, from early to late, was a sober critique of exploitation. “The grip of advanced capitalism” is labor’s double feature as both exploited and compulsory. Sekula’s “realism” strived to picture this paradox by depicting the world as a hierarchy of unfreedom. His early photographs are the opening of a single-note melody sustained over a lifetime. What is most compelling about them now is that they offer a clear look at a critical artist who tried his best to face the music.
(1) Sekula, Allan. Photography Against the Grain. London: MACK, 2016 (Second Edition).
Allan Sekula: Early Works is on view January 14–March 11, 2017 at Christopher Grimes Gallery (916 Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90401).