Tuesday, March 3, 2009

it looks like one thing, but it's something else....

I have been reminded of one of the posts I had intended to produce when Atlanta viewers could actually have seen all of the works in question, but the basic point remains valid.

Exhibitions at MOCA GA and Spruill reveal a remarkable tendency of workers in traditional media to produce work that looks exactly like some other medium.

Chen-cheng Hung's spectacular imitations in pastel of color photography and video stills were a major feature of the now-closed "Go Figure" exhibition. The SCAD Atlanta professor uses an unforgiving drawing medium to render the effects of depth of field so precisely that the virtuoso large-scale portrait that greeted visitors in the front gallery bore more of a resemblance to a photograph incidentally overlaid with a few bravura strokes of pigment. From a distance, even this effect vanished, and a good many visitors may have walked by without ever realizing they were seeing a work executed entirely in pastels. The same was true of the apparent video stills, which the artist actually produced without reference to any single original, though observation of numerous photographic images is part of his practice.

Christian Bradley West's drawings at MOCA GA that allude to the photographic collections of Masao Yamamoto's "Boxes of Ku" are equally spectacular in terms of a feat of composite trompe l'oeil. Though their status as drawings becomes apparent on close inspection, the seeming photographs posted on the wall above a wooden box (with other drawings placed loose in the box, just as Yamamoto arranges his various photographs) are so meticulously rendered that they replicate effects of damage as well as the tonalities of various photographic techniques.

Approaching the problem from the opposite direction, Mehmet Dogu (sorry, I don't know how to produce the appropriate diacritical marks in his name) photographed details of Karl Friedrich's Schinkel's Altes Museum on Berlin's Museeninsel and produced enlargements that, while undeniably color photographs, look more like photographs of some anonymous artist's architectural renderings. It is difficult to believe that the original source of the photographic image is the actually existing stone columns and red marble slabs rather than, say, meticulously executed drawings in pastel.

Without making conscious reference to one another, these three examples bring us full circle as regards the question of the degree to which photography has, as has been asserted for the past hundred fifty years, displaced the work of the artist's hand when it comes to realistic rendering.

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