Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Marco Breuer

Breuer, C-995, 2010

His show has just ended at the Von Lintel Gallery on 23rd St, quietly, the way he might have wanted.  But for those lucky enough to have seen it, the lessons of this part-time farmer from upstate New York are not easily forgotten.  For Marco Breuer's work is like a series of urgent dispatches from the field, the results of his ambushes on and abuses of the silver gelatin emulsion he so much loves.  This is point zero of cameraless photography, the ground state.  It doesn't get any more basic.

His method is to violate the photographic surface to see how far he can push it; he pounds, pummels, scrapes and gouges it, and even burns it.  Likening himself to a sculptor, he chisels away layers - literally - until he forces it to give up its expressive core.  The results can be stunning visually - these colors are hidden in photographic emulsion? - but they also can have the provisional and elliptic quality of laboratory results, maybe not everyone's cup of tea.  A picture I like very much, C-1012, may also look, to some, like the electrical discharge from a poorly wired socket.

Breuer, C-1012, 2010

But this is what you get when you strip it down and use the right tools: an utterly gorgeous image.  We will never completely master the sheer physicality of the materials of our art, in their mute resistance and mystery.  Yet we are locked in an eternal embrace with them where we must make them respond or we have failed.  In this struggle, Breuer takes no prisoners.  More of his fine work can be seen on the Von Lintel website.

The recent exhibition had another component, a bit of theater in which the gallery walls were redone in black, scratched with chalk markings, lines, symbols and formulae, as though we were inside the darkroom, sharing intense moments of creativity with the artist.  As I say, a bit of theater.  We sent our man-in-the-street, John LoCicero, to go have a look, and he filed this excited report:

Hand-Tool-Material: the chalked flashes and ghost swipes of a lesson plan - far now from W. H. Fox Talbot, this "pencil" re-draws upon photographic traditions/materials to index immediacy/measure/media - in this outlier darkroom: the power of the center is enacted through a triptych of approximations - angular hard lines score the edges of mysterious colors, tints and complements, miracles of multiple exposure - chalked agitations amplify onto the wall the scratched excavation of chromogenic paper coatings - evoking "the riddle of lumen", cresting angular slices graph sharp anxious contrasts from the containing black.

That pretty much says it all.

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