D A R R E L E L L I S
A L L E N F R A M E
Deep in a Dream
March 11 - April 30, 2022
We are pleased to announce the exhibition Deep in a Dream by Darrel Ellis and Allen Frame in our Vienna gallery. It takes place as part of the Foto Wien photography festival and unites two artistic positions that at first glance appear very different, but in fact have a lot in common: Both deal with the private; both seek the intimate moment; and both are silent hymns to New York subcultures.
The exhibition is, moreover, supported by the personal relationship of Frame and Ellis, with their attachment to the New York gay and artist scene of the 1980s, a time of awakening, sexual freedom, escapist, anything-goes lifestyles before the great AIDS crisis.
The photographer, writer, and director Frame met the artist Ellis, who is a few years younger, in 1980 in New York’s East Village, and a close bond quickly developed between them. They shared the same interests, hopes, and dreams, and their friends and acquaintances included successful artists such as Robert Gober, Cady Noland, Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Hujar, and Ken Tisa.
Darrel Ellis’s works, which are full of fractures, cracks, and flaws, have a deep inherent seriousness. The source material for the works are photographs of his father, who was killed by police officers during a street stop-and-search before Ellis was born. During his student years, Ellis’s mother gave him his father’s estate of negatives, which would become central to his artistic own practice. His father’s photographs depict portraits, street scenes, family gatherings, and snapshots of the Black community in 1950s Harlem and the Bronx. Through reworking, distortion, and fragmentation, Ellis processes them into splintery memory-images. They reflect Ellis’s struggles with his own identity and history, his queer self-image, and the challenges of being an openly gay, Black artist in 1980s New York.
Frame’s work, on the other hand, follows a strong documentary impulse. He describes himself as an archivist of his time and his contemporaries: “I’m not only archiving myself but I’m archiving everyone I know.”
In his photographs, he captures the queer subcultures of New York City in which he and Ellis moved in the 1980s, using an aesthetic that oscillates between snapshot and film still. His photographs can be read as visual diaries, similar to the works of Nan Goldin, which were created around the same time. He photographs friends and acquaintances in private, everyday situations, out of a personal desire to record their stories and not let them be forgotten. After Darrel Ellis’s untimely death from AIDS in 1992, Frame worked to preserve his work, curating a posthumous solo exhibition at Art in General that same year and continuing to champion his artistic legacy in the years that followed.
Ellis, who—obsessed with building and editing his family history—took apart his father’s black-and-white photographic archive, fragmenting, revising, and reinterpreting the work over and over again, emphasizes the gaps, finding himself and his story through blurs and holes, while Frame approaches history by capturing moments from the lives of his companions. Both work through memory and forgetting, capturing moods and creating associative, emotional images. They demand visibility, attention, and ask how memory works and what forms of visualization can function through art.
While Ellis’s works are black and white, have hard edges, and show disruptive breaks, Frame’s photographs are kept in melancholy, almost transfiguring hues. Both testify to the fact that these images still come from a time before digital photography, from the last great uprising of purely analogue image production, which, however, struggles to find new photographic aesthetics and thus becomes, as it were, the harbinger of the digital eye.
Ellis creates the disturbing, highly artistic effect of his works by projecting his father’s photographs onto plaster and Styrofoam molds and photographing them again. At the breaking points of the projection surfaces, they leave their distinctive fractures, holes, and voids. In a sense, then, Ellis practices a visual form of sampling and scratching techniques as they were used in hip-hop music at the time and later in techno. Frame, in turn, elegiacally, almost romantically, anticipates the exaggeration of chance and ephemerality that would later characterize photography in the 1990s and Instagram aesthetics even later—though it is never quite clear whether his images seek mystery or the obvious.
Deep in a Dream thus takes the viewer not only into the pre-AIDS era of New York subculture and the art world, but also into experimental photographic and art practices that achieved a unique character and unparalleled mastery, particularly in Darrel Ellis’s work—work that had been forgotten and now, for the past three or four years, has finally been rediscovered, as evidenced by upcoming solo exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum, the Bronx Museum, and the Not Vital Foundation, as well as recent acquisitions by the Whitney Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harvard Art Galleries, and the Brooklyn Museum.
Darrel Ellis was born in New York in 1958, where he studied art at Cooper Union University in the late 1970s and lived as a freelance artist after graduating in the 1980s. He died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 34.
His work was shown in numerous group and solo exhibitions before his death, including at the Anichini Gallery New York and in the legendary survey show Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing, curated by Nan Goldin in 1989 at Artist Space New York. Ellis did not live to see his first exhibition at MoMA New York; it opened in 1992, two months after his death.
After that, Ellis' work fell largely into oblivion. In the last two or three years it has been rediscovered and given wide attention. In 2020 Crone showed a first solo exhibition of his works in Berlin, in 2021 Candice Madey dedicated a large overview exhibition to him in New York and in the same year the exhibition Darrel Ellis - An artist from New York opened at the Not Vital Foundation in Ardez in Switzerland. Solo exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum, the Bronx Museum and the Harvard Art Gallery will follow in 2022 and 2023. The Whitney Museum of American Art New York, the Metropolitan Museum New York, the Brooklyn Museum, and MoMA New York have recently acquired his work and added it to their collections.
Allen Frame was born in Mississippi, USA in 1951 and lives in New York. He teaches photography at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and the International Center of Photography in Manhattan. In addition to his work as a photographer and curator, he regularly works as an author and director. He co-wrote the play Call Grandad with Bertie Marshall and directed it at the Old Red Lion Theater in London. In 2012 he produced the feature film Four, starring Wendell Pierce. His photo book Fever has just been published, showing his quiet, intimate shots of the New York artist scene, which can now be seen in the exhibition Darrel Ellis and Allen Frame - Deep in a Dream.
The exhibition is part of the photography festival Foto Wien.