Monday, March 20, 2017

John Chamberlain, Photographs @ Galerie Karsten Greve

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John Chamberlain, Untitled, 2005
In another lovely exhibition, this month Karsten Greve’s corner gallery is showing a selection of John Chamberlain’s photographs. While familiar with Chamberlain’s steel sculptures that look like cars mutilated in accidents, I didn’t know of his photographs before yesterday. The images themselves incited wonder and fascination in and of themselves, but I couldn't help thinking of them in relationship to the sculptures. Indeed, there is an uncanny connection between the two art forms as he works them.

Image result for john Chamberlain studio light photography
John Chamberlain, Studio Lite IX, 1989
Here at Karsten Greve, the photographs taken in the studio are aesthetically gorgeous. It’s hard to believe they are not paint, as the Widelux panoramic camera is pivoted and swung to create objects in motion that resemble streaks of light, or the statement of a brush on the surface of the image. And in many of the photographs, those objects are the metal sculptures in his studio. The traces they leave when caught by the motion of the camera create ethereal, unpredictable and abstract waves across the face of the image.

John Chamberlain, Studio Lite XV, 1990

Something about these photographs reminds me of the experimental films made by Chamberlain’s American contemporaries. The pure abstraction of the photographic image is so reminiscent of a camera in motion that if the shapes are not brushstrokes, we can be forgiven for mistaking them as cinematic images dancing before our eyes. There is a tendency of a lot of other artists who work with steel — I am thinking of Richard Serra, Tony Smith, Donald Judd — whose goal is to dissolve the resoluteness of steel as a medium. Like a number of such artists that surround him, Chamberlain transforms, one could even say, negates the traditional way in which steel is more commonly conceived. In Chamberlain's hands, steel is ethereal, luminescent, and transitory. Thus, in their marriage of photography and steel, these images underline the multiple, complex conceptions of steel. In addition, the photographs as colour, light and motion, in tension with stillness, remove all materiality and stalwartness from steel. Steel in these photographs is malleable, unpredictable. Indeed, the photographs mark a place where steel becomes air and light.

John Chamberlain, Studio Lite IV, 1989
Given this, we might think of Chamberlain’s photographs as a document of his sculptures. As the sculptures transform cars into aesthetic objects, that are also painted, so the photographs complete the circle — almost — to transform metal into abstract surfaces with no reality in the world.

Alternatively, when conceived through this perspective of the minimalist use steel —as opposed to through the more usual approach to Chamberlain as Abstract Expressionist — I couldn’t help seeing the photographs as very much of their time. Even if they are made in the 2000s, they are the works of an artist whose concerns were born and nurtured in the 1960s and 1970s. The richness of colour and the density of time in motion, as well as the giving of materiality to both, these are concerns that tend not to preoccupy artists today. And yet, they are so prevalent for Chamberlain's generation, to the point of obsession. 

Images courtesy of Karsten Greve

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sally Mann, Remembered Light: Cy Twombly in Lexington @ Gagosian Paris

StyleZeitgeist Sally Mann: Remembered Light Culture
Sally Mann, Untitled (Slippers and Flare), 2005
For Paris art lovers, the exhibition of Sally Mann’s photographs of Cy Twombly’s Lexington studio at Gagosian’s project space is a must. The images are taken both while Twombly is alive and since his death. Remembered Light: Cy Twombly in Lexington is a subtle and rare taste of a kind of photography that doesn’t always work out: one artist representing the work of another through a different medium.
Sally Mann, Remembered Light, Untitled (Flamingo and Blinds), 2012
What is so extraordinary about Mann’s photographs is her use of her camera to do in photography what Twombly does in painting – only differently because it is photography. Moreover, Mann does this without losing either the integrity of her photography or that of Twombly’s paintings. She makes photographs that echo, but do not reproduce the paintings. Though they exist, it is rare to see the delicate, ethereal paintings for which Twombly is now renown in Remembered Light. Rather, Mann photographs the space in which they were created, the walls on which they once hung, the objects that inspired them, and the materials that fabricated them. Mann’s photographs are inspired by Twombly’s life and his art, but they do not document either. Neither does Mann use Twombly’s studio in Lexington and the objects inside it as a way to explore her own self-facing concerns. The photographs come together with the space and Twombly’s life to create something new, something Mann sees on the walls, in the air that fills the space, caressed by light.

StyleZeitgeist Sally Mann: Remembered Light Culture    StyleZeitgeist Sally Mann: Remembered Light Culture    StyleZeitgeist Sally Mann: Remembered Light Culture    StyleZeitgeist Sally Mann: Remembered Light Culture
 Sally Mann, Remembered Light, Untitled (Light on Wall), 2012
Mann’s are photographs about light, time and the everyday. In them, we see light create space, we see time passing on the walls through the paint left over, on the skirting board, as it has dripped off the canvas that once hung on the wall during the day. The tears of different colored paint on the skirting boards remind us of the traces left by Twombly’s hand as it moved across the painted canvas. Mann writes in her memoir, Hold Still, about the very earliest photographic sessions in Twombly’s studio. She describes how the light fell through the cheap louver blinds onto a linoleum floor to create the space of the studio. And then over time, Twombly’s collection of objects, curiosities, pictures and things, blocked the light to create the space of the studio anew. We see this transformation across photographs taken in the late 1990s of a space filled by light reflected on walls, to those at the end of Twombly’s life twenty years later in which the complication of a life lived in the space interrupts the same light.

Sally Mann, Remembered Light, Untitled
(Squat White Sculpture and Paint Edges) 
For those of us who adore Cy Twombly’s painting for their mystery, the surprise of the images is also in the banality of the space they witness. The great artist had his American studio in a store front on the main street of Lexington Virginia. Almost incidental, yet overwhelmingly central to Mann’s images is the everydayness of the life of the space in which some of Twombly’s most ethereal and mystical works were made. In addition to the louver blinds and the cheap linoleum floor, the chairs are plastic, the air conditioning unit a very primitive  model, and all fixtures are yellowing, left over from the previous owners. Twombly’s slippers, neatly placed in the work room underline the everydayness of life at the studio. And yet we have no trouble reconciling this banality with the preciousness and ethereality of the artistic project produced in these walls. Because Mann makes the everyday of his studio beautiful. Just like Twombly makes the simplest vision into art, or drift wood into sculptural magnificence, so the space in the studio becomes filled with the richness of Mann’s vision. In the same way that she filled the landscapes of her native Virginia and Tennessee with the haunting deaths they saw during the civil war, so the complexity and inspiration of Twombly’s art and life haunt these photographs. 
Sally Mann - Remembered Light: Cy Twombly in Lexington
Sally Mann, Remembered Light, Untitled (Angled Light), 1999-2000
Mann has also infused Twombly’s studio space with an intimacy that we know from even his vast and monumental paintings. The detail of a skirting board from where the painting has been taken away, at the point where the wall meets the floor, gives us the impression of seeing the deepest, most vulnerable moment of the artist exposed. Similarly, that place where the is painting removed, leaves a meaningful blankness, an empty space filled by a vision of Twombly’s fastidious commitment to the orderly precision of painting. 
Sally Mann, Remembered Light, Untitled (Wall Drip with Blue Tape), 2012
Mann’s sensitivity as a photographer finds life and death and the essence of being human in the play and fall of light on and around Twombly’s space. In turn, the presence and absence of the painter and his paintings are pictured in the light of Mann’s photographs. And thus, in this extraordinary relationship between painting and photography, between life and death, light and dark, together the two of them, Mann and Twombly, make the commonplace, singular. Theirs is a vision that is mysteriously ungraspable and unabashedly everyday. 
Sally Mann, Remembered Light, Untitled (Dancing Cherubs), 2011/2012

All images courtesy of Sally Mann/Gagosian