They came in droves to pay homage to that master of insouciant snapshot photography, Wolfgang Tillmans. Say one thing for the London-based German photog who finds equal footing in both the commercial fashion world and the international art scene, he knows how to draw a big crowd. But party aside, his new installation at Andrea Rosen is a major misstep.
Tillmans' trademark photos of lounging lasses and bathing boys are replaced in his new show by austere quasi-abstractions and straight-on documentation of simple things. The artist has gone artistic on us. Maybe he's trying to justify his recent Turner Prize purse.
A dismal series of eight smallish C-prints (measuring 24 by 20 inches) called Snow/Ice Grid (1999) is taped unframed to the wall and shows various stages of melting slush on the pavement. Another work, Starstruck # (2000), is a set of abstract fields of fleshy pink with vertical hairline forms that look like magnified details of an arm.
I don't want to get over you (2000) is a large framed C-print of a landscape which has been given a very high saturation of sky blue and blood green along with an abstract gestural swirl of crimson. A preposterously huge and vertical ink jet print with the grandiose title of Conquistatdor III (2000) shows a Napalm-looking cloud amidst a moody mountainous sunset that aims to evoke natural disasters or heroic painting.
"Blushes" (2000), according to the press release, "is a body of work produced without a camera where the artist filtered light into concentrated areas of color and shadow." Looking at the prints, who could tell the difference? The images are of white fields with flecks of dark markings and are immediately forgettable.
Tillmans is to be applauded for not resting on his laurels. But showing this so-called experimental work at this stage is way-way premature, this is something you cannot rush, this takes time to get right.
The exhibition seems to imply that figurative and abstract work need not be separate concerns. Yet the best works in the show are the life-size Cliff (2000), a portrait of a bemused jock in athletic shorts and sneakers leaning by a window, and paper wrapped I (2000), a cropped C-print of a box wrapped in parcel paper. It is shot with the corner dominating the foreground as the object sits on a table.
Straightforward and deadpan, these two photographs can clearly be delineated from his abysmal abstractions and are the hallmarks of his trade (as are Tillmans' staged, close-up photos of subway riders, a few of which are also on view here).
The claims in the press release make it worse: "The idea of transmutation suggested by the 'Blushes' and most literally seen in Snow/Ice Grid (1999), suggests that experientialism in both art and life is an open invitation to chance that ultimately enriches our entire lives." This is both pretentious and maudlin.
Experientialism? Enrich our lives? Come on now. Tillmans is the art-world's international arbiter of collective coolness, his staged snapshots are an accumulation of many moments, many objects, many songs constructed into a narrative resonant to the globalist condition.
The question remains -- why have two of our most celebrated international emerging artists disappointed us in recent shows that followed major awards? Paul Pfeiffer's second show at The Project, not long after his triumphant win of the Whitney Museum's new $100,000 Bucksbaum Award, was also a total fall-off, featuring tired conceptual art installations (a running shower based on Psycho) and photos (a stock shot of Marilyn Monroe on the beach, but with the actress removed from the image) rather than the elegiac and radiant digital videos that make him great.
The Doors of Perception
Searchers for the spirit of photographic experimentation would do well to look a few doors down at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, where "Jan Dibbets: Early Works 1969-1977" is on view. Trained as an academic painter, Dibbets became a celebrated conceptual photographer in the 1970s for his translation of classical tenets of light and shadow into Minimalist, serial works.
He's a sensual structuralist at heart, transcending the compositional syntax in these photographs with a lucid repetition that is remarkable. Water Structure (1975) is a series of small color prints mounted edge to edge in a narrow band. The photos are of the sea, with the horizon alternating as verticals or horizontals. Somehow, this piece is like holding water in your hand -- only the intangibility doesn't disperse, but manages to give you an insight into its mysterious nature. Another work, Venetian Blinds 0"-135" (1972), consists of ten small black and white squares showing Venetian blinds, a work that convincingly echoes Frank Stella's Minimalist black enamel paintings from the late '60s.
Dibbets dug deep to thread the connections between his conceptualist forms. Land 0-135° (1972) takes the idea of gradual shifts in perspective evident in Venetian Blinds a bit further. Ten color photos (35.5-inch squares) are arranged in a row with the first image a straight view of the sky and grassy field. The next nine offer shifts in the pastoral panorama while the installation of the series itself is very much in conversation with the structure of Minimalist painting.
Dibbets opens doors of perception where Tillmans fails to. Rhythmic repeating patterns that give structure to abstract reality. Things that are always there but often not noted, chronologically arranged and inexorably present.