Minggu, 09 November 2008

Bratislava Month of Photography

After going to Budapest for the first time 2 years ago, many people I know have been urging me to go to the opening week of the Bratislava Month of Photography. This is the baby of Vaclav Macek who is the founder of the festival and the director of the Central European House of Photography. Finally, this year I went.

Bratislava is a place that seems out of another time. It seems still, even after many post-communist years, to be caught in an eastern bloc haze. While Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, and Moscow have all launched into a commercial/capitalist phase, Bratislava has lagged behind. Part of me loves this. I love being in a place that has resisted the most egregious commercial impulses and remains in a kind of benign time warp. The other part of me sees the poverty, neglect, and lack of resources that keep this country from really moving forward. I mean, it's crazy to think that this city is, almost literally, walking distance from Vienna -- 40 minutes by train. So imagine if you lived in Manhattan, that lower Westchester was like East Berlin in 1985. It's not THAT stark, but it's that close in geography and almost that different in mood.

The reason I wanted to go is that I was sure that I would find art there that would be off the beaten track. Month of Photography has a fine exhibition program that brings in some big names. This year included Koudelka, Giacomelli, Pierre Gonnord, and Paolo Ventura. These were fine shows, but I can and do see them everywhere. I was more interested to see more unusual things (at least to my eyes). There was a fascinating show by the mid-career Slovak artist, Daniel Fischer. More on him in another blog, but I heard an interesting thing about Slovak artists when I mentioned him to a prominent eastern euro curator. She said that many of the photographers and artists we think of as the cream of Czech art, are actually of Slovak origin. I was told that the region is basically made up of Bohemians, Moravians, and Slovaks. Bohemians and Moravians are in what we now call Czech Republic, and Slovaks are Slovakian. But they have mixed and mingled for generations with the distinctions between them lost to those of us in the west. To someone who lives there, it's clear that the creative and artistic impulse of the region has always had a clear Slovak vein. Cool.

I can't cover everything I saw, but here are three highlights.

I started at the student group show of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design. Lots of fine work, but the one standout was Peter Čintalan. Mr. Čintalan focused on the aging and retired of Slovakia realizing that their pensions were tiny fractions of the pensions of retirees to the west. He took photos of them as they left a supermarket and meticulously catalogued their age, name, pension, distance traveled on foot to the store, items bought, cost, and any physical infirmities they might have. I liked the cool eye of the work combining a passionate, caring voice with an unsentimental approach. Here are a few installation views including a crappy shot of the wall text. It's poorly translated and hard to see but worth reading.

Another good show was by artist Sylva Francova. She won best portfolio last year at this festival. Her work photographs horribly, so I encourage you to click on her website to take a look. I didn't take any pictures. The series I saw is called "Views". It's an interesting twist on the Becher typology. Where the Bechers photograph different but similar objects from a meticulously identical perspective, Francova, photographs the same thing from a meticulously changing perspective. In this case, she photographs the same view out of her apartment building from each successive floor. Of course I say "the same view", but since it takes time to move from floor to floor, the view cannot by definition be the same. It's a clever take on typology combined with "action" photography.

The absolute gem of a show for me was "Behind Walls - Eastern Europe Before and Beyond 1989" which originated at the Noorderlicht Festival this year (note to self: go to Noorderlicht Festival). Looking at the website for the Noorderlicht show, I realize that the Bratislava edition was substantially changed. Many of the artists I found most compelling seemed to only be shown in Bratislava. Some of the work I already knew from my Hungarian and Polish contacts -- fine work by Gabor Kerekes, Lenke Szilagyi, Przemyslaw Pokrycki, and Frank Rothe were all known to me. Kerekes and Szilagyi are certainly among the the best of living Hungarian photographers and would be widely known and collected if they were in the west. A few screen shots of Kerekes' work:
But there was fascinating work I'd never seen before. Much of it seemed to be earlier work that could now be re-worked, re-imagined, or re-contextualized in a society with fewer restrictions. A great example of this was the work of Belarus artist, Vladimir Shakhlevich. In 1980 he was on assignment to photograph workers for an honor roll. The shots were taken in front of an improvised backdrop and had the workers wearing their best clothes, medals, and other props of a successful collective while the shot was cropped to exclude any extraneous information. Now, in 1989, he printed the uncropped images. We see now the staged, formal, and (I suspect) artificial pomp of the photos. Our perspective is shifted 180 degrees.

Another re-imagining of Soviet life was done by Sergey Kozhemyakin. I quote here from the Noorderlicht website followed by a few exhibition shots:

Sergey Kozhemyakin makes new prints from old, frequently damaged negatives that he found in the wastebasket of a cheap photo studio in Minsk. The photos are of children posing in a hotchpotch of Russian clothing styles. The attire ranges from the kokoshnik (a traditional Russian women's head-dress) and uniforms from the Napoleonic era to contemporary military uniforms and insignia. For Kozhemyakin this monotonous succession of children in nationalistic costumes is symbolic of their spiritual situation. Under the totalitarian regime everyone must be alike. Outward appearances came before inner self, and was definitive for actions. In this perspective, the children's photographs are a tiny detail in a great mechanism that was directed toward suffocating the individual.

All works copyright Sergey Kozhemyakin

All in all, it seems that there were at least 35 artists in this show. I can't mention them all. The work was of varied quality though much of it was of a high level. The catalog is still available and worth taking a look at though the layout is awful. The last artist I'll mention is
Belarussian Uladzimir Parfianok. Again I quote from the Noorderlicht site:

Towards the end of the 1980s the Belarussian Uladzimir Parfianok did portraits of about 25 of his countrymen. These were people who did not fit in the communist system, although they had been born into it and had to function in it. According to Parfianok, the degree to which they literally exposed themselves corresponded to the degree to which they did that figuratively. Most of the photographs were made in the homes of their subjects, without adding any items to the backgrounds. A number of the subjects decided for themselves how they were to be portrayed. Parfianok used an analogue camera and coloured and scratched the photographs by hand. Each result is as unique as the person it records.

Hans-Christian Schink in re Chris McCaw

It's a funny thing -- once you start to notice a particular theme or idea, you start to see it everywhere. No sooner had I enjoyed and written about Chris McCaw's "Sunburned" series at Michael Mazzeo Gallery, I ran across Hans-Christian Schink's "1 Hour" series at the Kicken Gallery's booth both at Art Forum in Berlin and Paris Photo (Kicken Gallery website ). It seems that there is more photographic art work tracking the path of the sun across the heavens than I first thought.

I mentioned Richard Misrach and Hiroshi Yamazaki in addition to Mr. McCaw in my first post. Though all three share with Mr. Schink a photographic representation of the sun moving across the sky, it is not to say that they are similar. Mr. Schink has a formal, conceptual framework that limits his exposure to exactly one hour -- hence the title of the series. Also, since each photograph is taken in the course of an hour in a different location, his artistic intention is to have them shown together as we see below followed by their titles:

Algeria 1: 6/20/2007, 7:02 am – 8:02 am, N 22°54.402' E 005°40.083'

Algeria 2: 1/09/2008, 4:38 pm – 5:38 pm, N 21°48.913’ E 006°30.297

Apple Valley: 2/22/2006, 7:32 am – 8:32 am, N 34°30.850' W 117°12.266'

Dubai: 5/10/2006, 6:47 am – 7:47 am, N 24°47.435' E 055°56.493'

Cappadocia: 7/27/2008, 7:07 – 8:07 am, N 38°38.269’ E 034°49.963’

Los Angeles: 2/23/2006, 4:04 pm – 5:04 pm, N 34°03.712', W 118°20.979'

Leipzig: 5/03/2006, 6:04 pm – 7:04 pm, N 51°22.126' E 012°09.310'

Norway 1: 7/14/2007 – 7/15/2007, 11:28 pm – 0:28 am, N 69° 37.661'
E 018°13.470'

Norway 2: 7/11/2007, 5:27 pm – 6:27 pm, N 69°45.199' E 020°29.497'

Oman: 5/12/2006, 6:44 am – 7:44 am, N 24°43.562' E 055°57.061'

Spitzbergen: 9/17/2006, 8:45 am – 9:45am, N 78°13.370' E 015°40.024'

Tokyo: 10/28/2005, 2:03 pm – 3:03 pm, N 35°40.460' E 139°45.243'

This conceptual framework makes gives Mr. Schink's work more in common with Hiroshi Sugimoto's "Seascapes" than with the "Sunburned" series. Mr. McCaw has no limits on his exposure time, place on the globe, or serialization of the images. He doesn't intend to imply to show a commonality of the images within a typological frame. While I find Mr. McCaw's process oriented works more viscerally and visually satisfying, one can also find pleasure in Mr. Schink's rigorous intellectual étude.

I add a few full frame examples to illustrate individual photos rather than the whole installation:

It never fails to amaze me how works that have such a surface similarity can be so far apart in concept, intention, and execution. I marvel at the fine distinctions photography affords, and I savor the rich possibilities for interpretation and comparison that fine artists bring to my eyes.

Poland/Krakow...en route to Bratislava

Jan Dziaczkowski, Bauhaus, Dessau, from the series Keine Grenze, 2008

I had the opportunity to travel to Krakow from Berlin with my friend Asia Zak (pronounced, basically, asha zhahk), who is a native of Krakow and a gallery owner specializing in Polish and easter european art. It was a fun, quaint place to see for the first time. There are many galleries--some of them at a very high level like the Starmach Gallery--but my one good find was at GaleriF i S>KA looking at the work of Jan Dziaczkowski (basically, yawn djoshkovsky). Amid a varied and large output, Mr. Dziaczkowski in this case uses Soviet era postcards as a base for collage. He inserts pictures from more western capitals in a rumination about how those places would be changed if the iron curtain had fallen farther west. They are presented as postcards--stamps, writing and all. I thought they were great. Check out his website at:

My last day in the area I took as an opportunity to see Ausschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. I have nothing to add that hasn't already been said about these places except for a few personal experiences. Night falls early in this part of the world at this time of year, and my tour was the last of the day. This meant that we were mostly walking around the fog-shrouded, nighttime grounds of Ausschwitz that was empty and mostly dark. It didn't take Steven Spielberg's imagination to feel the creepy scariness of the place. Seeing the guard towers evaporate into the chill mist heightened the empathy of experience beyond belief.

As soon as I got back from the tour, it was time to board the overnight train to Bratislava. Being in the Krakow train station (not the image of modern train travel) after having just seen the selection platforms at the concentration camps sent my imagination racing. The train was older and somewhat creaky ( actually it was fine but I'm trying to paint a picture here). The porters and conductors were surly and impatient, so as I locked the door to my sleeper, I had ample opportunity to think about ominous history. The train left on time with my mind still racing. An hour later we lurched into our first stop. I hadn't given a moment's thought to where the train might stop on the route to Bratislava. I raised the blind to see where we were -- Ausschwitz!! No kidding. Creeped me out. A lot of ghosts on that platform. The perfect Jewish boy Halloween train ride, coming to a Six Flags near you soon.

Berlin -- November '08, Part 3

As I said in the previous post, attendance was mixed at the satellite fairs. But I don't know what to conclude from that. Berlin satellites have always been a little hit or miss. There is no clear "best" fair, and often what was good one year is not good the following year and vice versa. With the exception of Preview, all of the fairs were in a different venue than the previous years. Again, this is not so unusual; I have seen these fairs move each year as a matter of course. I suspect that with the rapidly shifting renovation and building scene in this city, it's hard to find a consistent alternative space. This suits me just fine. I get to see all sorts of out-of-the-way Berlin spots which feeds my taste for finding out-of-the-way artists.

The level of art at the satellites was perhaps a bit lower than usual. Again, that's fine by me as I go to the Berlin fairs to see work that wouldn't ordinarily cross my path. Part of that contract is that I will see tons of crap work in search of the elusive jewel. I found Thorsten Brinkmann at the first Kunstsalon I went to. When I first walked into the fair, I thought I had stumbled into a 1rst year art school show. But on further exploration, that fair was full of intriguing work, and Thorsten was at the top of the list. So, I try to be patient and just have my eyes open for the most communicative and intellectually satisfying work.

This year I guess Berliner Liste was the queen bee. It had the most consistent level, high attendance, and was in a remarkable building on KuDamm.

Wilde-Gallery from Berlin had a show of street and grafitti artists. Usually I could not care less about this genre. All the buzz about Banksy aside, the work just isn't speaking my language. But Wilde had some spraypaint work by an artist who calls himsel EVOL (love backwards) who creates photo realistic architectural studies using spraypaint and stencils on cardboard. While I have a few questions about the archival nature of found cardboard, there's no question the color and texture of the material is perfect for the work. In the following piece you can see the precision of the concept:

followed by a detail and raking view which shows the texture and "right"ness of the material:

The found cardboard is sometimes written on, stamped, bent, logo-ed; it all lends to the sense of the street which it portrays. I was seduced. A few more examples:

The artist's website, which is none too helpful, is as follows: http://www.evoltaste.com/

Galeria Piekary from Poznan, Poland, has been coming to Liste with high quality booths for some years now. Readers of this blog will know that I'm a big and ever growing fan of current Polish art. Piekary doesn't disappoint with multiple works by Leszek Knaflewski. His multimedia piece, "Crossroads vs Roundabouts", had a central installation made up of a wall full of convincing automatic weapon copies. It was menacing and thought provoking before and after you learned that they were toys. His work seems to explore power and authority often as how it relates to the church. I have seen sculpture, installations and photography. Someone to watch along with Altheimer, Sosnowska, and Kieslowski in this artistically rich country.

A new gallery for me was Ego Gallery from Barcelona. They had the work of Victoria Campillo on display. This mid-career artist has been exploring how various readily available cultural tropes, symbols, or semiotics can stand in for and represent the work of contemporary artists. Some attempts are more successful than others, but at her best she's witty and smart. The work on view had a model in a polo shirt which was gradiated along a Pantone color scale. The color of the shirt was keyed to the iconic food that Ms Campillo used to identify each artis: Beuys was yellow polo/butter(fat), Hermann Nitsch was a piece of blood sausage with a red shirt. Examples are here:

Prof. Maria Vedder must be doing something right at her Klasse Medienkunst at the UDK in Berlin. The booth for this program consistently displays engaging, smart, visually exciting work from a variety of students. If I were collecting video, this place would be as much on my radar as Columbia is on the radar of painting collectors. There's no way for me to show the video work here, but they did have an installation in the lobby that played with the antique idea of a photobooth. My buddy, artist Ron Rocco, was the willing model to demonstrate the device:

Kunstsalon was pretty dim for me this year. Exceptions were Astrid Schneider and MFK Gallery Berlin.

Astrid Schneider is unrepresented as far as I can tell and has no website. If anyone wants to be in touch, let me know. I have an email address. She seems to be a photographic/installation artist. Her work frequently combines photos and mirrors. In the piece I saw here, a photo of a camera was spliced between slices of a mirroe and supended in the room. As you moved in front of it, you brain made up for what was missing in the photo or the reflection, the same way we "see" what is behind a picket fence. Depending on which part you were focusing on, you saw a complete photo or a complete reflection. I enjoyed the investigation into the nature of seeing and the way the piece played with space. Somehow it both dominated and disappeared into the space. In the close-up you can just make out my reflection taking the picture of the piece. One really needs movement to capture the soul of this work.

Andreas Fux dominated the MFK Gallery display, though the other 2 artists including Jenny Kocerka were also strong. Parental advisories prevent me from showing you any of Mr. Fux work. The work comes from a tradition that includes Mapplethorpe and Witkin but it's unlike either of those two artists. It has a commercial veneer, but very humanely and sensitively documents the extreme tatoo and body piercing community. Pictures showing a submissive punctured by dozens of 6 inch needles into some kind of ritualistic pattern were hard to look at but impossible to forget. Ultimately, I suspect Mr. Fux' work is more about his models that about his perspective, but it's work I would never see in the US and is definitely worth seeing. It's an addition as I say to the canon of work by Mapplethorpe, Witkin, Opie, et al. that shows an underground, fetishistic scene with compassion and beauty.

Preview fair was in the only fair in the same space as last year: an unused hangar at the now retired Tempelhof airport. What a great place for an art fair! The spirit of the place is completely satisfying. Last year, the fair earned high marks from me on the artistic front, but alas, not this year. A few highlights:
Mixed Greens gallery from NYC was showing pen and ink language based work by Joan Linder. These were hand copied resumés, sometimes many, many pages long, of female artists who had had children at some point in their career. Her stated point was to examine how being a woman changes the nature of a career as an artist. My take was that it was a potent comment on how the market only values resumés and status. We don't even look at the work anymore, we just look at what the artist has done and where they've shown. Very much in the same spirit as Vik Muniz' show 2 months ago at Sikkemma, it was solid, beautiful, bitter work.
Galerie Metro, also from Berlin, was showing Markus Leitsch. I don't have much to say about his human form that had been shrink-wrapped in fur as a throw rug. When I saw it, I like it so I thought I would share it with you.

Bridge fair was by far the weakest. It was in an unfortunate space that required a sherpa to navigate and climb. Collectiva Gallery from Berlin was showing another interesting Polish artist, Łukasz Gronowski. In this series, he photographs mundane, quotidian landscapes though one could sometimes miss that there is a figure or two in the picture kneeling or standing with hands clasped behind their head. Sometimes there is one figure, sometimes more. The implied narrative is open; are these people under arrest? stretching? alien? submitting to power? We don't know, but I like the questions it asks. I would be interested to see more of this artist as he develops.

Senin, 03 November 2008

Bad Painting -- a fantasy

Forgive me a little detour. As I walked around the myriad fairs, museums, and galleries in Berlin last week, I started to be consumed by the idea of fantasy collections. I'm surprised that there aren't more virtual collections. In an art world consumed by photo books, actually owning the work seems less and less important. Why not just make a book of what you'd like your collection to be? In this vein I had a deviant thought; who says that a collection has to be good? Walking through the halls of all these fairs, I saw yard after yard of bad painting. Could one make a collection that only contained bad painting? What would be the taxonomy of this idea? Would there be just as much disagreement about this collection as there is about "great" collections? How would you present your idea to artists? Maybe one could even commission bad work. It could be a goal, a movement! Sure enough, as I was sitting outside of Liste refining my idea, a happy new owner walked past carrying one of my first fantasy purchases for the new collection. I doubt if he had the same curatorial concept in mind when he wrote the check for his new canvas. Hmmm.

Minggu, 02 November 2008

Berlin -- November '08, Part 2

A belated part two and part 3 for Berlin. I didn't have internet access with my laptop in Bratislava, so I had to wait to write this. I'll confine part 2 to the main Art Forum fair and I'll dedicate part 3 to the satellites.

First, since the economy is on everyone's mind, I'm sure some readers will be curious about the mood of the Berlin fairs. I wasn't there as a journalist, so I have no accurate reports on sales or lack thereof. (I think it's interesting that the same galleries we didn't trust when they reported fabulous sales in boom years are suddenly trusted when they give reports these days.) I can say that attendance at Art Forum was robust. Kunstsalon and Bridge were quiet the days I went, but Liste was quite crowded. The galleries I spoke with at Forum all seemed to be having an ok show. I did speak with a few good galleries at the satellites who said they had not made a sale. How that corresponds to real statistics or a measure of what went on I couldn't say.

I go to the Berlin fairs because I find that the work is a little off the beaten path; there's a good chance I'll see work I wouldn't see elsewhere. I found Art Forum a little tame in this respect this year. While there were still galleries present who don't come to U.S fairs, work that German galleries find too expensive to travel with, and some emerging art that was new anywhere, overall I found Forum more conservative than it's been in the past. The satellites were another story, but that's for part 3.

As always, Kicken Gallery had an amazing booth. There were prime examples from his usual suspects: Dieter Appelt, the Blumes, Peter Keetman, New Topographics, Neue Sachlichkeit, etc. The most noteworthy for me was a series by Hans-Christian Schink that deeply relates to my recent post on Chris McCaw. I will save that, too, for its own, later post. (http://www.kicken-gallery.com/).

Nusser Baumgart Contemporary had a booth devoted to Albert Weiss. I wrote about a few of his pieces at Pulse NY last year during Armory. This is small-scale precise art, but it's smart and engaging. I also include him in my Creative Destruction list. Worth a look and not in the US except for fairs.

Anatoly Shuravlev had a few large scale fascinating works at GMG from Moscow. This is work that is impossible to re-photograph or to reproduce. From even 2 yards away, the piece seems to be a solid black obelisk with a reflecting plexiglas surface. On closer...no, on very close inspection, one can find that there are tiny white outlines of an island country. Japan was one and the UK was another. It spoke volumes about power in the face of nature and also about a nation's place in the literal world. The gallery either had trouble with english or were not in a helpful mood, so I'm not sure if the work is photographic or not. The website is not helpful on this count.

Rubicon Gallery from Ireland had some intriguing work from up-and-coming Irish artist Liam O'Callaghan. In my opinion the work was uneven, but I really liked some of the "Designs for Public Monument that won't happen". It was among the best of what seems to be becoming a mini theme of sculpture that was created only to be photographed. Add Sara Vanderbeek, Hannes Schmidt (see previous post), and the current show at Bellwether among many others to the list. I also find confluences between his sculptures using found objects with the sculpture of Thorsten Brinkmann. While Mr. Brinkmann makes sculpture to stand in 3 dimensions rather than to photograph, I do see some kind of affinity. Here are two of my faves from Mr. O'Callaghan:

Add to this list the work of Kaspar Bonnen at GalleriChristina Wilson from Copenhagen. Mr. Bonnen has created in the series what I would call action texts. Like Augusta Wood from Cherry+ Martin Gallery in LA, he creates a text in nature out of natural materials. Unlike Ms Wood, this piece is a sequence that begins with an abstract sculpture. As the scupture devolves, we see that the sculpture was made up of pieces of text that, when completel dismantled, spell the sentence that is the title of the piece: I said I lost you but the truth is I never had you.

Berlin gallery, Crone, had an interesting twist on the painting/photography axis. In a booth that seemed to be filled with identically sized vernacular photos:

One moved closer to begin to wonder if these were photos or not:

Until finally on close inspection we see the brush strokes and the texture of the canvas:

In a world where photographs are constantly judged to be painterly, I find it refreshing to find a painting not from the photo-realist school to be "photographerly" with a clear nod to Walker Evans polaroids. In the end, though, perhaps these were too easy. One Berlin insider I spoke to found it disparaging of the work that it sold out of the booth immediately. Does popular mean bad? I don't think so, but I don't know if this is work I would find stimulating for years on end.

Galerie Guy Bartschi from Geneva had one of the better Georges Rousse I've seen in awhile. I loved in how many planes he could get this piece to work. The painted geometric shapes float in the room remarkably succesfully. And to see it up close is to see how many angles and corners he used in the actual space of the room. 3D, 2D....I could look at this one for years.

Sam Durant was represented by Praz-Devellade with some beautifully macabre and politically charged maquettes of gallows. These were miniatures of actual gibbets used in famous US executions in history. It was an example of political art that was in short supply, but maquette art seemed to be everywhere I looked.

September Gallery from Berlin had a few works by Nikolaus Untermohlen. There's a monograph about the artist. Like too many others, he died young from AIDS leaving a relatively small opus to history. The work pictured here would be a candidate for Creative Destruction, but there is so little work to look at it's hard to say whether it's a significant part of his practice.

Leipzig gallery Eigen + Art had fine work by Ricarda Roggin. It seemed to be an unholy marriage between John Chamberlain fetishistic car advertisements. I liked it.

More from the satellites coming soon.....

Berlin -- November '08, Part 1

Before I go off on my rants and raves about the recent slew of art fairs centered around Art Forum Berlin, I thought I would touch on a couple of fave shows around town. There are always openings galore in Berlin at fair time, and this year did not disappoint.

Berlinische Galerie came through with another satisfying and fascinating set of shows. (http://berlinischegalerie.de/) I wrote about the "Neue Heimat" show some months ago commenting about what a smart, underknown cultural spot this is. This time around, there was a fine new video overview (which I will leave to others to write about), and an amazing show of panoramic photos of Berlin from 1949-1952. I quote from the website and press release:

Panoramic Photographs of Berlin, 1949 - 1952

After WW 2, rubble clearance had made considerable progress and rebuild had begun, a remarkable photographic inventory was done in East Berlin. By order of the magistrate of the capital of the GDR an -- up to now -- unknown photographer documented central places and areas that were of importance concerning the urban planning in the early 50s. He captured the Pariser Platz and the Schloßplatz area as well as the works on the Walter Ulbricht Stadium or a sand storage area in the outskirts. In order to adequately picture the void and the vastness of the destroyed city as well as the remaining urban structures, the photographer made horizontal turns with the camera and thus produced sequences that -- once brought together -- turned into panoramic pictures.
The concealed quality of these pictures was lately discovered by Berlin photographer Arwed Messmer. By means of digital mounting of the sequences, he created synthetic large-size panoramic portraits that show the destroyed Berlin as an empty stage. Thus inspired, the Photo Archive of the East Berlin magistrate, preserved by the Berlinische Galerie and documented in the catalogue “Ost-Berlin und seine Bauten. Fotografien 1945–1990”/”East Berlin Architecture”, was searched through anew. Thus the exhibition operates at the interface between applied photography and new photographic technology as well as between collective memory and an unfamiliar optic experience.

This show was presented so smartly. In one room were the original photos - sometimes shown indididually, and sometimes shown in their original archive albums and books. One of these was a panorama of every building on Unter den Linden Strasse. There has been quite a bit of buzz lately about a Japanese book showing every building on the Ginza that is significantly similar to Ed Ruscha's seminal Sunset Strip book and published more than 10 years earlier. Well, here is another similar project, just as objectively/flatly represented and predating the Japanese project by decades. I love it!

In the next room were modern digital panoramic enlargements. Made from the original negatives, the modern prints were amzingly sharp, clear, and seamless. One could really walk into them. Here was a case where scale was essential and added immeasurably to the experience of the work. A map that correlated all the photos to their actual current location was the cherry in the archival sundae. This was a show that would have been a a wonderful addition to ICP's recent "Archive Fever" in that is uses, reexamines, and reimagines voluminous historic data into a changed modern perspective.

Next on my list was a show of Claudia Angelmaier at Alexandra Saheb Gallery. I was introduced to this artist at Leslie Martin's show during NY Photo Festival earlier this year. Her smart, crisp work continues to impress me. (Alexandra Saheb Gallery website) From the press release:

Claudia Angelmaier’s works quote the great masterpieces of art and their history. She approaches pictures in the form of reproductions that she finds in books, postcards or slides. These then become the material of her works. Hence, the motif is no longer the “original”, but the photographic reproduction that also leads to the work’s familiarity. Angelmaier’s photographs address the question of our viewing habits in a world flooded with visual media. In the series “Works on Paper”, Angelmaier works with various art postcards that share the themes of the Rückenfigur (a figure seen from the back) and the Romantic landscape. She photographs the postcards in such a way that, although they are seen from the back, the viewer is also confronted with the front – the picture side. The art postcard acts as a souvenir, a memory of the artwork; its mass circulation contributes to the work’s popularisation. Angelmaier’s works elevate the art postcard to the status of a tableau. The just visible image on the front – the reproduction of the artwork – is given back its original dimensions. Nevertheless, the contemplative viewing of the picture is disturbed by the way in which it has been photographed.

This work has parallels to me to Tim Davis' series "Permanent Collection". In both artists' work, the recontextualized art is presented in the size and shape of the original art. In both cases, we are asked to see how our culture obscures or distorts how we see iconic art. They both even chose one work in common: Gerhard Richter's "Betty". This is an artist to watch.

Last I want to mention is the Hannes Schmidt, "State of the Process" show at Nice and Fit Gallery. (Nice and Fit website) This is another Berlin gallery in which I consistently find engaging, smart, and beautiful work. The work of the artist that most spoke to me were photos of constructions/scuptures made in the gallery that were photographed just as they fell apart or failed. In this sense, the photograph serves as a document of a scupture that the eye could not have seen at the time and which no longer exists. Truly, photography is the only medium in which they could exist as art. Many were as clear as Klee drawings or as complexly simple as constructivist collages.

They also reminded me strongly of an exhibition of 82 photographs made between 1984 and 1987 by Peter Fischli and David Weiss at Matthew Marks Gallery. From the website:

The Equilibres photographs are images of household objects and studio detritus arranged to form tenuously-balanced assemblages, and it is from this moment of passing equilibrium that the series takes its name. The group includes both color and black & white photographs and takes as its subtitle the phrase, “Balance is most beautiful just before it collapses.” To this end, the emphasis in these works is on the beautiful, playful, transitory arrangement of the objects in space, where chairs and brooms, cheesegraters and wine bottles are choreographed into moments of delicate suspension. The assemblages do not simply look temporary; once photographed, they were disassembled, and today these photographs are the only record of their existence.

Hannes Schmidt joins an august line-up of artists to create temporal and temporary work that use the hundredths-of-a-second eye of photography to create an object that only a camera can see.

Hannes Schmidt, How long is long?, 2008, c-print, dimensions variable, edition of 3 + 1 AP, courtesy Nice & Fit, Berlin

Hannes Schmidt, State of the process, 2008, installation view, Nice & Fit Showroom, Berlin

Much more from Berlin to come........