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stefan becker at goethe house

by Michael Brennan  

Becker at Goethe House

   Stefan Becker is a German painter who lives at times in the U.S., and who is probably better known for his installation work than his paintings. All of Becker's work seems preoccupied with light, or more specifically with transforming an image into energy, as was the case last fall when he converted a grand little room on the second floor of Goethe House into a camera obscura. Viewers entered the darkened room dramatically, by passing through a black curtained doorway, waiting perhaps alone and apprehensively for their eyes to adjust. Becker had blocked out most of the light by painting the window-glass black. Some drips of black enamel where left behind on the white windowpane -- a nice expressionistic aside.

Light did enter and fill the room through a tiny oculus about the size of a quarter, and projected a reversed and upside-down image of the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its giant banners undulating in the breeze and traffic passing by on Fifth Avenue. Most of this projected image was contained within a kind of screen Becker had suspended from the ceiling. The screen consisted of scrim stretched within an ornate frame whose ratio of height to length corresponded to the sort of compressed volume found in Cinemascope and other widescreen film formats. The floating image of the museum was contained nicely within the frame, softly bright like Vermeer's View of Delft, but much of the street scene spilled over its edge and was anamorphically distorted across the room's decorative molding and stucco. The whole image seemed very liquid in texture, down to the blue of the sky appearing along the bottom edge of the framed image.

The strength and clarity of the image, which depends on natural light, was ruled by weather and the time of day. The work was more of an experience than a conventional show, and much joy could be derived from watching the ever-changing inverted world roll by. This project was the result of several experiments Becker made with the camera obscura, including one that was documented in the show, in which he projected parked cars through his mailbox slot on the Bowery. So with a little humorous ingenuity Becker has taken the camera obscura, parlor play-toy of the Enlightenment, and given us generous commentary on the linked nature of all illuminated images, both painted and projected.

Stefan Becker, "Metropolitan Museum," Sept. 9-Oct. 2, 1998, at Goethe House, 1014 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10028

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