Monday, September 19, 2011

An eye for the absurd

"Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see."
~ Rene Magritte

“La Carte d’Après Nature,” a show at the Matthew Marks Gallery on West 22nd Street (New York City) through October 8th, takes its name from a journal created by the great Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte.  The New York Times says of the journal: "It took the form of postcards mailed to fellow artists and writers, and included drawings, snippets of poetry and short stories..." Various notes and postcards from the journal are in a display case in an out-of-the-way corner of the gallery entrance area. Two Magritte paintings, "In the Airy Glades" and "The Universe Unmasked," are also in the show. 

My old friend Dawn Willis and I were in the neighborhood to see the Gagosian's new Andy Warhol show (more below). We're both huge fans of Magritte, but the work that stood out for both of us was made by the late Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri. His photography dominates the show — dozens of exquisite images, most of them quite small, most infused with a deadpan absurdist spirit. I'd never heard of him before, but now I can't stop thinking about his work and want to know more about him.

Ghirri often photographed people in front of artificial landscapes. Sometimes the effect was subtle, as in this photo, which is titled "Lucerna." 

And sometimes the effect is not so subtle at all. Behold "Salzberg."

He also photographed landscapes with artificial features, such as this palm tree.

One of my favorite photos is this one, taken through the window of a hat shop in Parma. 

The Internet is disappointingly unhelpful on the subject of Ghirri. I learned from Wikipedia that he was born in Scandiano in 1943 and died in 1992. The program notes for a 2001 exhibition at the Julie Saul Gallery add this: "Ghirri created visually profound images about the nature of representation and seeing. Although he freely acknowledged the influence of American photographers Lee Friedlander, Walker Evans and William Eggleston, as well as Atget, his work possesses a witty and worldly sensibility that is purely his own."

At the Gagosian's West 21st Street gallery, Andy Warhol's silkscreens of Liz Taylor, large and small, are on every wall. Dawn is a major fan and was excited that so many images she hadn't seen before were gathered in one place. A large silver canvas with multiple images of Liz in her National Velvet days was my personal favorite. 

Continuing the Warhol theme and rounding out the day's absurdities, we stopped by the chrome-covered Andy Warhol "monument" at Union Square. With its super-shiny finish, it looks like a sports trophy or hood ornament. Andy would probably have loved it.

"All thought must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters, relate ultimately to intuitions, and therefore, with us, to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us."
~ Immanuel Kant

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