A two-man, two-nation photo show where everything new is old again – and vice versa
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Sept. 26, 2008
Through Oct. 11
Time is out of joint in the Davis Gallery on 12th Street, the temporal parade staggered as in some artier Tarantino film.
Because China is ancient, isn't it, with its Great Wall and its architecture harking back through enough centuries to cause a thinking traveler cognitive vertigo? And the USA, why, that's just an upstart, some Western punk still wet behind its economically bewildered ears, its first purloined Marlboro not even half smoked. And yet, in the Davis Gallery, everything new is old again – and vice versa.
China is ancient and riddled with the ghosts of history, yes, but, especially in the cities, its oldest parts are shriek by howl with modernity, the antiquity of artisanal terra-cotta jarred by the bright polyurethane of mass production. And the United States is relatively bratty and young, although a recent era – the shining, TV-modulated culture-scape of the 1950s – has achieved the depth of myth within American shores if not, via mid-20th century cinema, around the world.
Now there's a fine mess of words for evoking, but we know that a single picture is worth a thousand of them. And humanity's newest arena of art and industry, that hyperlinked www, likes to demand: Pictures or it isn't true.
There's a whole lot of truth in the pictures currently on display in the two-person exhibition "Past: Paused" at the Davis and a whole lot of time-shifting going on. Matthew Fuller's photos are of these United States; Faustinus Deraet's are of China; the new is juxtaposed with the old, yes, that's a rather obvious grouping. But, wait, here's the deeper strangeness, the next level of chrono-shenanigans: Fuller's polychrome, postcardic images aren't precisely his own; the artist has, instead, digitally enhanced photographs taken by his grandfather in the 1950s. These storied snapshots of happy days among finned Buicks and pre-McDonald's eateries and on-vacation vistas earned strictly 9-to-5 have been vastly enlarged and treated with the imaging equivalent of steroids. Their colors are of an almost Lovecraftian intensity, burning the captured scenes – at once quotidian and, from our perspective, iconic – into the mind's eye and the retinas of the body's actual eyes. A few minutes of witnessing these wonders in the fiery main room of the Davis may send you, seeking surcease of Technicolor overload, to the cool pool of soothing black-and-white in the next room – where China awaits.
Deraet has nixed digital enhancement for the images chronicling his recent two-week journey through that teeming country. He's eschewed color for monochrome and has even ditched the precise possibilities of Leica and Hasselblad: All the photographs improving the walls in this room have been taken with a plastic toy camera, lending a sort of pinhole-photography look to the intriguing display, providing a view, like that of Fuller's grandfather, that is more personal and intimate.
This two-person, two-country show is damned appropriate to the current times, as the United States stumbles, gasping, into economic shambles while China seems to be reiterating the rah-rah burgeoning of wealth and power that the U.S. knew when Grampa Fuller was snapping Kodaks of his relatives in their Sunday best. For that reason alone, as well as to experience the contentious eddies of time and the beauty of photographic art (timeless, after all), this show demands your attention.