SAM FALLS’S DEBUT at American Contemporary in the East Village is a photography show in only the most expansive sense. It is also one of the season’s essential exhibitions, an ambitious follow-up to the two solo shows he had in New York last year, which together established him as a relentless inventor. For the first of those, at Higher Pictures in February 2011, Mr. Falls, now 28, detailed still-life and landscape photos with Technicolor acrylics and pastels to make effervescently colored scenes. There’s only one such photograph at American Contemporary, joined by a bevy of wall pieces that are grittier, funkier takes on the color-saturated, abstract textile works he showed at West Street Gallery last fall.
For his “Joshua Tree” works, which take up a whole room, Mr. Falls went to the California desert of that name, wrapped rocks with hand-dyed linen—forest green, psychedelic pink, washed-out navy—and left them to bake for months in the sun, the rocks burning amoebic white stains into the wrinkled fabric. They slow photography’s most rudimentary process—writing with light—to a creeping pace.
His sleek minimalist sculptures, bronze and aluminum cubes that the news release explains are designed to change as they oxidize, look out of place. They’re a bit too slick and conceptually cute for the show’s otherwise rugged, freewheeling vibe. Not so the stacks of vibrantly dyed firewood, the raw fuel for his “Topanga” series, for which he left chunks of colored wood in the desert on terrycloth sheets. Rain washed the wood’s pigment, drop by drop, onto the sheets, leaving white patches where the logs sat. They’re not as visually seductive as his earlier work, but they’re stronger: minute traces gradually yielding major art. Imagine where he’ll take photography over the course of another year.
Update, June 19: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a sculpture by Mr. Falls is made of copper; it is bronze.