Saturday, September 25, 2010

Edward Burtynsky at the Metivier Gallery; Art of War: Bullet Paintings by Viktor Mitic

Well, I saw two shows today, one bad, one good.

The good one was Ed Burtynsky's Gulf Oil Spill photographs at Metevier Gallery [some good images are available here:]. Burtynsky has solved the problem of surface in photography. The finnesse of the high contrast, the sharpness of focus and subtlety of tonal and color gradation made these appear to be paintings complete with skeins of paint. One painting seemes to have a bit of paint smeared on the photo with the thumb. It was actually the long wake of a white boat.

My favorites were Oil Spill numbers 4 and 5. One of them had that Klein blue but, unlike the witless businessman Klein (he manufactures paintings), there was more... a lot more... the detail of the fire barges made them look like delicately painted watercolors. Bits of rainbow could be seen in the spray and the cloud of the spray softened the waves where otherwise they were as sharp as tree bark. I wanted to take photos of the details, which is like reading a poet and wanting to read it aloud: the highest compliment. Another photograph was all gray silver and gold... like metallic paint... really amazing... not to be missed.

In sharp contradistinction, Viktor Mitic's paintings at Moos Gallery, in a "hi-concept" advertisement for his genius, such as it is, was dead. Giving it up to a concept is the surest way to kill it. The car outside was another matter. That wasn't bad at all. I guess he fired a shotgun into a car (I don't read gallery blurbs: they're bullshit) and then put the shells in the car... stuffed them into the glove compartment, left them on the seat. Let me guess: there are no more and no fewer than the number of shells used to cause the damage. And I'll admit the destructive sense of what these things can do did come home to me and I felt quite vulnerable. But the idea that there is either art or war is a kind of delusion only artists can support. Why invent a world of one's own, a parallel world to be true to, to immerse one's self in it if it has to be tied by the throat to the real world? How pointless. And the paintings! Hiroshige (or was it Hokusai?)... that wave? Copy it and shoot bullets into it? Well, they say beauty's skin deep and Mitic isn't that deep. Dorothy Parker once said of Katherine Hepburn that her performance ran the emotional gamut from A to B. Mitic doesn't make it to A.

Burtynsky is smart enough to know that his reasons for going to the Gulf of Mexico (to photograph an event in which he has an interest) is to photograph it and the beauty of the ugly event is the best way to ensure that people look at it. To see the beautiful in every thing in this world... is there really another reasonable way to live?

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