North Adams, Massachusetts, USA
Adam Cvijanovic and Peter Garfield: Unhinged
January 26 – April 27
Curated by Laura Fried
There is no organic unity connecting the land site and the home. Both are without roots—separate parts in a larger, predetermined synthetic order.
-Dan Graham, “Homes for America,” 1966
The wind began to switch, the house, to pitch! And suddenly the hinges started to…unhitch!
-Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz, 1939
A lone box spring floats in the hazy atmosphere, while a procession of airborne linens follows in its wake. Below, small cars linger in front of desultory clapboards and beneath drifting signposts. Branded bric-a-brac drift among crumbling foundations and loose floorboards. Looking at Adam Cvijanovic’s Suspension of Disbelief, one’s eyes drift up, following the path of the rising bungalows and colliding tires that trace an arc to the gallery ceiling, and the perspective suddenly shifts. Now the houses hover overhead, surrounded by a swarm of consumer “stuff” that once filled their walls. At the opposite end of the gallery hangs a group of large-scale photographs—records of a similar event. In each of these photographs, the camera has captured a modest house on-the-wing—poised at a moment of propulsion and explosion, mid-air above familiar, if bleak, suburban terrain. Assuming the role of accidental witness, Peter Garfield has documented several airborne homes, at once threatening to ascend into orbit and pitch down towards earth—marked by a placidness that is both disarming and alarming.
In both Cvijanovic’s monumental painting that crests up and over the spectator, and in Garfield’s large-scale photographic sightings, we find two portentous visions of a new American condition. Cvijanovic and Garfield have long explored our relationship to the changing American landscape, and here both have made that shift manifest in the rupture and rapture of contemporary suburbia. Between the slow ascent of a Southern California street and the fleeting glance of a shattered, airborne house, the works in this exhibition suggest the psychic disruptions caused by our own shaky underpinnings. Giving form to the “high anxiety” of losing one’s foundation, these houses-in-flight become powerful metaphors for personal and psychological turbulence. Infusing the banal realities of suburbia with a fantasy of flight, Cvijanovic and Garfield both conjure notions of the American dream as well as the specter of divorce, domestic disturbance, and the drudgery of materialism that fuels a corresponding nightmare.
Artists have tackled the subject of American suburbia before. In 1974, artist Gordon Matta-Clark cracked open the center of a two-story clapboard house in New Jersey that had been destined for demolition. Sawing open a vast crevice from top to bottom, he then cracked the structure at its base and, splitting the halves apart, opened up the dim interior of the abandoned building to the light outside. Literally unhinged, the resulting “anarchitectural” structure revealed the instability, impermanence, and mutability of domestic architecture. Seven years earlier, artist Dan Graham published “Homes for America” in Arts Magazine, in which he laid bare the structure of New Jersey’s prefab tract housing. Although the project was meant to mimic the serial rhetoric of Graham’s Minimalist predecessors and to critique the mediation of artistic practice through mass media, the focus on the new American home was significant. For Graham, as it would be for Matta-Clark, the middle-class home belonged to a larger mythic construct of America’s suburban communities. Despite the eager consumption of these new “homes for America” after the war, these nondescript, iterative, and impersonal boxes that came to define suburban architecture became indicators of suburbia as an ersatz and even banal social space. What Graham’s “Homes for America” and Matta-Clark’s Splittings achieved was, in part, the exposure of suburbia as a site without meaning, and the house as a structure without foundation. And ultimately, as art historian Pamela Lee writes, ”What this gloss on the privacy of the American suburb reveals is that its façade of stability and autonomy masks the insecurity of its most treasured icon, the suburban home.”
The suburban home is indeed an American icon. The single family unit (lawn and car included) has since the 1950s been a marker of a certain wealth and success, and an image we have long purchased and consumed as a staple of our cultural diet. At the height of the Cold War in the United States—and, needless to say, with the introduction of the television—the home became a powerfully insular space, within which each dweller could carry out the American capitalist dream of power and property. And, if the house was a dominant symbol of post-war culture, then suburbia became the myth that possessed this image. We have now seen half a century of suburban progress, in which housing developments continue to crystallize over the landscape. Suburbia remains America’s ubiquitous architectural space—a material environment constructed by the sprawl of highways, malls, and cookie-cutter homes. Yet for all the promises made by post-war capitalism and the pleasures of mass consumption—a dream of Formica kitchens and ranch-style split-levels—the decades have also seen suburbia transformed into a fantastic dystopia. America’s landscape—a space it was once our manifest destiny to control—has become for many a more frightening frontier. In the wake of strip-mall culture and diminishing natural resources, our vision of the contemporary suburb has been colored not only by the loss of wilderness, but by the debilitating effects of school shootings and nuclear landfills. And indeed, the fear of losing house and home—of life and property—has not been lost in our visual culture. Between oblique, “level-orange” government reports and the “doomsday” Hollywood blockbuster, visions of catastrophe on our doorstep continue to refigure our notions of “home” and “homeland security.”
Despite Dan Graham’s disclosures, the American home has been a dominant emblem of privacy, possession, stability, and rootedness—indeed, there’s no place like home. Yet, as history has revealed in recent decades, there is often a deep discontentment underneath suburbia’s veneer of perfection—and eventually the home is poised to unhinge. Surely, it was The Wizard of Oz that imprinted onto popular consciousness the house-in-flight as an ur-image of domestic displacement and embedded it deeply within 20th-century visual culture. Tumbling to the earth, while transporting Dorothy through the Technicolor looking glass, Auntie Em’s small farmhouse became, as Salman Rushdie has written, “the archetypal myth, one might say, of moving house.” Indeed, the works in Unhinged inevitably invoke the spirit of Dorothy’s escape (or exile)-to-Oz-via-twister: these images conjure a fantasy and fear that already belong in our cultural inventory. However, at the turn of this century we find ourselves far from the populist postures of 1930s rural America represented in Dorothy’s adventure. Instead, Cvijanovic’s painting and Garfield’s photography seems to offer what social critic James Howard Kunstler has recently described as suburbia’s new “tragic destiny.” Faced with, as he writes, the “long emergency” of high gas prices and distant visions of global conflict, the promises of space, affordable living, family life and upward mobility seem to have collapsed, even though “the psychology of previous investment [in the American Dream] suggests that we will defend our drive to utopia long after it has become a terrible liability.” If, perhaps, we have seen the end of suburbia—despite an enduring mirage of stability and contentment—then Cvijanovic and Garfield seem to forecast this imminent fate.
This House is Not a Home
In Peter Garfield’s haunting photograph, North Star (1999) the silhouette of a large house—given shape by the soft orange glow passing through its second-story window—is set askew against a dark violet sky. The photograph would be very ordinary—a dull and amateur snapshot of a suburban street at night—if not for the second house falling from the sky. Far above the street, a splintered dwelling plummets (or perhaps soars?) in to or out of the atmosphere. Blurred—suggesting the home’s rapid propulsion—and lost in the heavy grain of the photograph, the roots that still cling to the structure’s foundation are barely visible. As we register the second tiny orange flicker not as a celestial twinkle but as the light from a dispossessed living room, the sleepy scene suddenly becomes a disquieting, phantasmagoric event. Yet, the picture’s thick grain, together with the sharply slanted angle of the shot, suggests not only that we are happenstance spectators but also that Garfield has offered us a suspect document—a record of an unbelievable event whose visual obscurity only compounds our own skepticism and uncertainty.
It comes as no surprise that critics have already seen The Wizard of Oz in Garfield’s Mobile Homes, a series the artist produced during the late 1990s. Garfield’s tumbling homesteads evoke the Gale family farmhouse as it travels through the twister’s dusty vortex. And, like Dorothy’s voyage, both magical and murderous, Garfield’s photographs register both exaltation and terror—and a palpable tension between, as Garfield puts it, “fear and faith.” Also, not unlike the disorienting sequence in the film, Garfield’s grainy, skewed shots possess a high drama strangely suited to cinema. With a kind of B-movie styling, Garfield’s photographs encode these vertiginous visions with surreal melodrama. In Brainstorm (1998), for instance, a slouched and befuddled boy gazes fixedly at us from the lower edge of the frame. Standing in front of a modest, white-paneled tract house, he seems fascinated by the camera lens that captures him—and wholly unaware of the plunging house in the distance. Yet with the perversity of a practical joke and the air of a “close encounter,” Brainstorm seems less likely to belong to a journey over Oz’s rainbow. Instead, as if we were to stumble down the rabbit hole, underneath the veneer of neatly manicured lawns, we find an alternative reality right on our doorstep, where alter egos carry a darker narrative.
While often typecast as a photographer, Garfield instead considers himself an interdisciplinary artist who alternatively employs video, photography, and sculpture to suit the aims of each work. Mobile Homes belongs to a larger project, for which Garfield produced an artist book, Harsh Realty, as a “document” of his artistic process. Conceived and designed as an exhibition catalog, the book includes a series of production images—depicting helicopter-hoists and construction crews—as well as an essay by German art historian Alexander Uhr who recalled his visit to the site of Garfield’s house-drops. Likening the scene to a “low budget disaster movie,” with a team of skilled assistants hauling, rigging, and hoisting a small white clapboard house into the air, Uhr reported that when finally released from its hold, the house “crashed down to earth where timbers, sheetrock, and glass shattered and flew to the four corners of the site.” This grand-scale production, he wrote, recalled the “grand macho gestures” of conceptual and earthwork artists like Robert Smithson and Gordon Matta-Clark, in addition to Michael Heizer and Chris Burden, for whom process, he added, “previously intuited, if not actually known… stands as essential component.” However, both the art historian Uhr and the series of production photographs that accompany his essay were in fact wholly fabricated by Garfield. In reality, Garfield shot each Mobile Home on location using thread, a small, handcrafted house model, and a handheld 35 millimeter camera. Hiring actors to portray his “crew,” and digitally manipulating the helicopter and crane shots, Garfield fashioned these production documents, in addition to the essay, to evoke what he calls the “uselessly massive effort” we have come to expect from the previous generation of “white, male earthworks artists.”
If on the one hand, and with a dose of irony, the Mobile Homes suggest the Herculean and perhaps arrogant gestures of artistic production in the 1970s , the series also harnesses the field of “cinematic” and staged photography that emerged as a distinct genre in the 1990s. “Staging” had come to dominate much of the field in the decade, between Thomas Demand’s constructed cutout still lifes and Oliver Boberg’s deceptively complex fabricated industrial sites, Gregory Crewdson’s elaborately orchestrated productions, and the “staged realities” by photographers like Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Jeff Wall. For many, the 1990s had ushered in a generation of photographers who, “taking [their] cue from movie directors,” worked to exert exacting control over their images. Elaborately arranged productions—highly attentive to formal qualities of choreographed light and composition—became the mode d’emploi, with the aim of capturing an advancing narrative within a single frame. In other words, melodramatic codes traditionally ascribed to Hollywood movie production became the principal referents for these “invented” images. Peter Garfield’s Mobile Homes, produced at the very moment of staged photography’s apogee, were quickly subsumed under this model.
However, for Garfield, the Mobile Homes do not endeavor simply to conflate photography and film. On the contrary, while Crewdson became known for employing a massive production crew to achieve the “cinematic” aesthetic that characterizes his work, Garfield has long worked both within and against this prototype in an effort to perpetuate the ambiguity between the real and the fake, and to problematize conditions of expectation and perception. Indeed, Garfield’s “Mobile Homes” certainly speak to the collapsing boundaries between the staged and the real in recent photography. Colliding the supposed credibility of documentary photography with the impossibility of the house-drop, Garfield aims to generate both apprehension and doubt—a sense of uncertainty that is further compounded and confounded by the fiction produced in Harsh Realty. The series of photographs and the accompanying artist book, in the end, articulate what Crewdson himself penned “the utility of doubt.” Yet for Garfield, the project—in its bouleversement of stability and certainty—is equally linked to the image and symbol of the suburban home. Between what Garfield sees as the emergence of a “global village” where “no one is secure or separate anymore,” and the insularity of our separate lives which are inundated daily by the falsifications and fabrications by our most trusted newspapers and the American government, doubt and deception have come to penetrate our lives. According to Garfield, the Mobile Homes signal the rupture between aspiration and the disintegrating myth of the American Dream—and our own psychological dislocations that follow.
Leaving Los Angeles
In the summer of 2005, while flying above the Southern California coastline and looking down on the vast Los Angeles sprawl, Cvijanovic pictured an uprooting of the sweeping architectural topography—and the city’s sudden expulsion. This apocalyptic dream—a vision of tumbling split-levels and unearthed palms—was revealed in the resulting work, Love Poem: Ten Minutes After the End of Gravity (2005). Covering three walls and spanning 75 feet, the wraparound mural shows the levitating landscape of a modest California community, whose horizon, now suspended, hovers at eye level within a mammoth expanse of a fading blue atmosphere. With its soft palette and trompe l’oeil illusionism, Love Poem… nods at once to the 18th-century tradition of celestial fresco painting, while depicting a modern tableau of domestic materialism. Standing in the empty gallery space, faced with the foreshortened forms of colliding nightstands and splintered clapboards that seem to evaporate in the distant background, one gradually becomes aware of the depth of Cvijanovic’s vivid, hallucinatory—or perhaps prophetic—vision. And indeed, scale triumphs here, as the work stretches floor to ceiling and around the space of the spectator. In his new commission for MASS MoCA, Cvijanovic amplifies these spatial relationships by transforming the physical space of the gallery. Emulating the curved surface of a cathedral dome—or the crest of a wave—Suspension of Disbelief extends above our heads, and offers the sublime spectacle of a sleepy Los Angeles neighborhood minutes after gravity has failed.
Since 1999, Cvijanovic has painted on Tyvek®, a synthetic material used for durable packaging by FedEx, and most recognizably, the brand of protective casing for house construction. Painting on this virtually indestructible and flexible surface allows him to create what he calls “mobile frescoes,” which, easily installed and removed from site to site, possess in their portability the very nature of contemporary suburbia’s site-unspecifity—its “anywhereness” and its “everywhereness”. But these matte murals also recall the wallpaper panoramas made famous in the 19th century—particularly Zuber & Cie.’s pastoral portraits of American wilderness—popularized at the height of the nation’s spectacular industrialization. Long invested in the tradition of American landscape painting, with a special affinity for the sweeping, transcendental landscapes of the Hudson River School, Cvijanovic fuses a grand scale and dramatic space with rhetoric of Nature’s sublime so consummately imaged in early American painting. Of course, Cvijanovic’s contemporary revisions of this theme include works like Neon Graveyard (2003) in which abandoned and now-rusted marquees are piled high around stray vanity bulbs. Laid to rest together in the dry desert, these defunct spectacles—in all their elegiac grandeur—have come to replace the sublime monumentality of the purple mountains that remain as mere traces on the distant horizon. Cvijanovic, who works primarily in his studio, rarely paints from photographs, culling instead from both memory and imagination. With exacting brushwork and with a genuine deference to the majesty of the natural landscape—he sees himself working in tandem with a long lineage of European painters. And indeed, between the cerulean celestial spaces of Tiepolo’s frescos and the resplendent American expanses painted by Frederic Church, Cvijanovic pays homage to these legacies of pre-Modern Western painting with sincere humility, if not without a modicum of nostalgia. At the same time, however, Cvijanovic’s subjects remain firmly rooted in the present. Suspension of Disbelief represents the American landscape of the new millennium—an ungrounded and unnatural site whose transcendence is revealed in its literal rapture.
For a contemporary painter who seems to resist the demands of 20th-century Modernism in a return to classical aesthetics, Cvijanovic, unexpectedly perhaps, consistently gestures to cinema. Fixed flush to the wall, with few seams visible, his work possesses the theatricality of the Baroque, while simultaneously conjuring the space—and scale—of the film screen. Perhaps, for Cvijanovic, the movie screen provides a modern model for the pictorial illusionism mastered by 18th-century painters. André Malraux, for one, once pronounced cinema as the “furthermost evolution to date of plastic realism”—a practice born by the Renaissance, which found its apogee in Baroque painting, and culminated in film. While Cvijanovic’s own painting hinges on the collapsing spaces of architecture, painting, and cinema screen, his subjects seem to extend into infinite depths. From the abandoned neon signs in the dry desert of the Wild West to his recently imagined reconstructions of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance set against the dusty Hollywood Hills, Cvijanovic maintains a strong interest not only in a literal scale that echoes the enveloping space of the movies, but as a subject, America’s own history of phenomenally grand-scale gestures of façade. And as Cvijanovic himself has noted, whereas synthetic Cubism offered the systematization and accumulation of time and space on one plane, he hopes to return to traditional modes of the spatio-temporal experience in his own painting—what he calls the “ultimate inflection of time on to matter” that today seems only available to us through film. Where Erwin Panofksy once described film as the dynamization of space, and Giles Deleuze famously named it the movement-image, Cvijanovic offers a kind of retrograde “spatialization of time.” Looking to Suspension of Disbelief, to a landscape with no horizon and no frame, this rapturous ascension of a sleepy American street at once envelopes us in space and absorbs us in the successive moments after gravity’s departure.
It seems appropriate that he has chosen Los Angeles for this monumental eruption. For Cvijanovic, the suburban landscape is “profoundly American”—and Los Angeles is suburbia’s archetype. Yet the city is also home to an industry that defines itself by the manufacture of fantasy, by the business of making pictures. Reviewers have been keen to identify Cvijanovic’s painting not only with the tragedies of real-life natural catastrophes, but with the recent onslaught of Hollywood disaster films. Indeed, coming apart at the hinges, foundations crumbling as they shed the wispy weeds that once cushioned them, these airborne homes do seem to provoke a collective fantasy of disaster—whether natural or nuclear—made manifest by the epic catastrophes imagined in the movies. However, Cvijanovic is not so premeditated. On the contrary, the image of a quietly ascendant landscape of materialist, modern domesticity into the blue California haze comes from what Cvijanovic holds as an intimate and deeply personal individual vision. Looking to a very real tragedy on a cataclysmic level, Cvijanovic has said, “Catastrophic – apart from my own little life – was the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, in the immediate proximity of which I found myself at that moment. It was the most impressive display of gravity that I have ever seen.” And yet on the other hand, while Suspension of Disbelief might have manifested as a reaction against (and release from) the memory of this phenomenal exertion of gravity, Cvijanovic also lets dangle a small but not insignificant caveat: that “there is, additionally, the general disaster to live at this moment in America.”
Social critic and film historian Siegfried Kracauer famously claimed that cinema functions both to reflect the psychology of its homeland and to predict that nation’s future. For two artists on whose work the traditions and conventions of film are repeatedly inflected, the imagined and imaged rapture of contemporary American suburbia seems to offer a vision, as Kracauer would suggest, of America’s unhinged psyche and of an uncertain future. These images not only implicate our collective fantasy of and obsession with disaster, but they also appear to us as dizzy visions of suburbia’s destiny. The unhinged home—airborne in its take-off from the land site (to which it never was, really, rooted)—becomes a signifier of discontentment and dispossession. Certainly, Cvijanovic and Garfield are both haunted by the same curiosities about the stability of our lives within the contemporary American climate. If our conception of house and home was once grounded—insisting upon conditions of immobility and immutability—our psychic ties to these sites have been increasingly uprooted. Brought together, however, these pictures of the end of suburbia begin to confirm our new fate: that in our constant quest for the right place, and with the more intimate fear of losing our grip, we find ourselves, finally, home-less.
As art historian Miwon Kwon, who has explored the implications of our own psychic welfare within “wrong places,” warns, “the more we give into the logic of nomadism, one could say, as pressured by a mobilized capitalist economy… It seems our very sense of self-worth is predicated more and more on our suffering through the inconveniences and psychic destabilizations of ungrounded transience, of not being at home (or not having a home), of always traveling through elsewheres.” Surely, together these works picture the ephemerality of our domestic lives—indicating the sudden evaporation of everything we hold dear. It may be, however, that this destiny is not so tragic. At the end of gravity, perhaps Cvijanovic and Garfield have brought us not to the gravitas of ruin, but to the liberty (and levity) in release. Navigating our way through Cvijanovic’s panorama and Garfield’s uncanny “close encounters,” we, too, find ourselves traveling though elsewheres—through the transient spaces of anywhere and nowhere, to which we all belong.
 Dan Graham. “Homes for America,” Arts Magazine (December 1966).
 As Pamela Lee, on Gordon Matta-Clark’s “anarchitectural” projects, writes, “Suburbia is an imaginary… seen through the picture windows framing both the outside and inside of tract housing.” Pamela M. Lee and Gordon Matta-Clark, Object to Be Destroyed : The Work of Gordon Matta-Clark (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000), 21.
 Ibid., 24.
 Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz, BFI Film Classics (London: BFI Publishing, 1992), 27.
 James Howard Kunstler, "The End of Oil," Rolling Stone, no. 971 (April 7, 2005).
 Cited in Peter Garfield: Harsh Realty (New York: Woodley Editions, 1998), 2.
 Barbara Pollack, "Lights, Action, Camera!," ARTnews, 99, no. 2 (February 2000), 126.
 Among critic Barbara Pollack’s inventory of 1990s “cinematic photography” were Garfield’s Mobile Homes. Ibid.
 (which, as it happens, are often staged at MASS MoCA)
 See André Bazin and Hugh Gray, What Is Cinema? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960), 2.
 See Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film (New York: The Viking Press, 1971), 16.
 Miwon Kwon, "The Wrong Place," Art Journal, 59, no. 1 (Spring 2000), 33.
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2007 International Film Festival Rotterdam
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
January 25 – February 3, 2007
Eight years ago, Deep Space One was launched: an ion-driven unmanned rocket that is still on its journey through space. In this triptych, Peter Garfield takes us on a similarly dizzying journey through various dimensions. The camera glides through a room, straight through walls – without having to stop once.
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Projects At Clifford Chance
New York, NY, USA
Staging The Real
May 11 – July 28, 2005
From the time of its invention, the camera has been a tool for documenting and capturing images of the world. Conventions of painting and sculpture informed the ways in which photography was used in its early years, but traditional genres such as landscape and portraiture quickly led to nonrepresentational and abstract experiments with the medium. Initial fears and predictions that photography would condemn painting and sculpture to obsolete ideas and methods of each medium to pursue new and interesting ways to describe the world.
For the sixth exhibition in the Projects at Clifford Chance series, Staging the Real includes artists who use photography to address issues related to photography, painting and sculpture. Whether building elaborate sculptures and sets, staging events, or manipulating images digitally in a painterly fashion, these artists use photography to call attention to the many ways we construct and organize reality.
Dinaburg Arts LLC
Curator, Clifford Chance US LLP
While many photographers many photographers-such as Gregory Crewdson and Jeff Wall- stage reality as a form of theater or film, others simply build their own worlds using any means available. Peter Garfield, for instance, portrays houses falling or flying through dark spaces, fragmented and with no visible context. Ominous, playful, discomforting, and speculative, the fantasies he suggests are more typical of Surrealist paintings than photographs. For his “Mobile Home” series, Garfield produced his eerie fiction by photographing, in a real landscape, a model of a house suspended from a fishing line in front of the camera. It’s a child’s nightmare of being thrown into space by a tornado or some unearthly force. With the house as symbol, it’s also the artist’s critique of the flimsiness of our lives and values.
Perhaps these attempts to reproduce or create reality reflect poet T.S. Eliot’s observation, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” Fortunately for us, as John Lennon wrote, “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”
Senior Editor, ARTnews
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Projects At Clifford Chance
New York, NY, USA
June 16 – September 15, 2004
We are pleased to introduce Projects at Clifford Chance, a series of special exhibitions exploring issues relevant to contemporary art and culture. Marking Clifford Chance’s new location, the inaugural exhibition, Where?, presents a selection of works by a diverse group of international artists investigating issues related to location and place. Whether fictional or real, abstract or figurative, these worlds challenge the assumption that the world is an objective space, sharpening our sensitivity to the conventions and filters through which we define and construct the literal and psychological spaces we inhabit.
Dinaburg Arts LLC
Curator, Clifford Chance US LLP
Peter Garfield’s photographs, such as his various images of “Objects with Potential” take us with great clarity to spectacularly unspecific sites. Manipulated, desolate landscapes in almost real places are occasionally populated with figures who are more substantial as shadows than as themselves. They appear to be going someplace but with nowhere in sight.
Senior Editor, ARTnews
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Jaffe-Friede & Strauss Galleries
Hanover, NH, USA
(See: Projects – Objects with Potential – Catalogue)
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New York, NY, USA
OBJECTS WITH POTENTIAL
January 19 - March 2, 2002
The photographs and sculptures in this exhibition represent the first phase of Peter Garfield's ongoing project, Objects with Potential, which also includes drawings, and ultimately, a four-channel video installation and a web-site.
Photographed at an isolated complex in eastern Colorado, these digitally enhanced pictures show a functional settlement of aluminum buildings, sometimes empty and at other times staged with actors in lab coats. The landscape, architecture and inhabitants in Garfield's Objects with Potential photographs, which range from 10-ft. to 18-ft. wide, are reduced to their generic essentials, evoking a sense of dislocation in a vast and desolate space. It is a place where ideals such as optimism, racial harmony, productivity and efficiency are distilled and projected to their utopian/dystopian end.
The two sculptures, Untitled #1 and Untitled #2, depict another facet of this hi-tech wasteland. Made of fiberglass and aluminum, they are disembodied fragments of a larger three-dimensional graph. While they appear to quantify or present some data, the information they refer to is lost. What remains in its absence are relics of some enigmatic virtual mountain-scape.
As was true in his earlier series of Mobile Homes, Garfield's Objects with Potential blur the distinctions between documentation and artifice. Garfield continues to present the shifting realities, perceptions and misinformation that he is well known for exploring in that previous series of unsettling photographs which showed houses falling or flying above the calm of a landscape. His now notorious artist book / catalogue, Harsh Realty, produced in conjunction with the Mobile Homes, provided a fictional text and constructed scenes realistically recording the huge production of the making of the photographs, including the use of a large helicopter to drop the tethered homes from the sky. In actuality, each image was photographed in front of a real landscape using a 35 mm camera in one hand and a small model suspend by fishing line from a stick in the other.
Garfield addresses the ambiguity of the written and visual information that we absorb daily, and explores how much our knowledge, self-image, ideas and ideals are based on projections of everything from current celebrities to ancient archetypes. He is fascinated with the power of the mythology of the "American Dream", the media, and corporate values, systems and hierarchies to influence our perceptions of reality. In the place he has created the only constants are absence and uncertainty.
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College of New Rochelle
New Rochelle, NY
Bogus: Counterfeit Images and Contemporary Art
September 4 – October 21, 2001
Curated by Alexandra Muse
Seeing is not believing…
You casually look at a work. There is instant recognition. But wait, something is not quite right. You move in closer to get a better look, and realize you have been duped.
This exhibition is about that moment after recognition, when you must approach the work anew, to determine what the artist is really trying to get you to see. The artist has grabbed your attention by playing on your gut response when you, the viewer, react to something you sense is familiar. But to explore its real subject matter and thereby truly understand a work, it is necessary to spend time with it. And the artistís finely crafted slight-of-hand has made you stop to do just that.
Is it live or Memorex?
The supposed documentary nature of photography and our desire to believe the image not only pervades, but is also integral to the work of many contemporary artists who employ counterfeit imagery. Similar technical wizardry is used by Peter Garfield to create his tableaus of homes flying through the air á la Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. His book Harsh Realty “documents” the use of large cranes to raise and drop houses so he can capture the action of the house careening to its splintery death on film. In truth everything reported in the book, and the resulting photos is done with miniature replicas. By using imagery that is familiar to us- an average looking home, flying through the air in a manner reminiscent of a beloved classic film- Garfield cons us into immediately buying into the image, and yet because it clearly resembles a movie special effect, we also immediately question it. Is it a picture of a tornado at work? Is it a prank? Is he really dropping houses just to get a photograph? We are torn between our knowledge that photography could and has documented such events, and our media-jaded wariness to trust the veracity of a photo.
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Hand Workshop Art Center
Richmond, VA, USA
The Comforts of Home
October 29 – December 23, 1999
Curated by Ashley Kistler
This exhibition explores the concept of home and our need for comfort through diverse works by seventeen American artists. Participants include several young, emerging artists who have just recently begun to show their work publicly, as well as artists at mid-career who have received considerable national attention. While photography predominates, other media are also represented, including works on paper, sculpture, and materials and techniques traditionally aligned with the craft arts.
The idea of home, of course, encompasses a multitude of different meanings, histories and sensations. The works included here not only refer to a physical space and the objects, individuals, and activities associated with it. They also allude to the feelings of security and well being that we most often equate with home and to the sometimes elusive nature of this universally sought state of mind. From disparate perspectives, these artists regard the domestic realm as a psychologically charged site of memory and desire.
Ranging in tone from droll to unsettling, certain works underscore the realization that the comforts of home are, at times, not easily won or sustained. Peter Garfield humorously evokes the disturbances hidden behind the suburban façade of decorum with the uncanny airborne structures of his Mobile Home series. By no means extraterrestrial, a disintegrating house hurtles through the sky in the upper left-hand corner of Brainstorm, high above a neighborhood and its young resident. In another image, a house with a glowing window dreamily floats over an ocean bluff at dusk. Garfield slyly mines the tactics of tabloid photography by presenting improbable subjects in a seemingly realistic way. Purposely exploiting the photographic blur and grain of his large-scale prints, he mimics the fuzzy appearance of amateur snapshots and home movies to lend his carefully fabricated images an air of immediacy and authenticity.
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Whitney Museum of American Art at Champion
Stamford, CT, USA
Zero G: When Gravity Becomes Form
June 4 – August 4, 1999
Curated by Ko’an Jeff Baysa, Eva Diaz and Michelle-Lee White
When the world witnessed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bouncing around on the surface of the moon on July 29th, 1969, the effects of gravity- or in this case, reduced gravity- became vivid in our minds. Each of the astronauts’ steps had to be calculated, as the force they used to push themselves forward could send them upward instead. The televised image of the space walk gave the concept of an earthbound existence new meaning.
New aesthetic paths were also being forged that changed the way the public experienced and interpreted contemporary art. The Postminimal and Conceptual art movements were liberating art from its static and esoteric presence in galleries and museums by shifting and emphases from the object to the idea. Heightened interactivity with media and the audience was creating a discursive space that redirected conventional ideas about where and how art could be seen.
“Zero-G: When Gravity Becomes Form” focuses on art that suggests alternative ways of reading the familiar through an exploration of gravity. The aeronautical term “zero-G” alludes to maintaining a physical equilibrium between gravity and the condition of arrested motion known as antigravity. Accordingly, the art in this exhibition depicts transitional moments- snapshots as it were, of interaction with gravity. To best reveal the artistic investigation of this state the works selected use the full dimensions of the exhibition space: there are floor, wall, and suspended pieces, and most of them touch a number of media, from video and video-derived photography to figurative and organically abstract paintings.
The works, moreover, can be read on historical theoretical, or scientific levels that together provide a new frame of reference for understanding and interpretation. Eva Diaz’s essay takes a comparative historical approach to the 1960’s and the 1990’s, exploring uses of gravity from their conceptual foregrounding in Postminimalism to their literal effects in more recent work. Ko’an Jeff Baysa investigates gravity as an invisible force whose presence is visualized in contemporary art through its actions and effects. Michelle-Lee White’s essay focuses on gravity in contemporary art as the recorded communication of a lived experience with natural phenomena.
The work in “Zero-G: When Gravity Becomes Form” contemplates a profound human relationship to the natural world. The visual articulation of this relationship is tempered with creative twists and turns that direct our attention to the form of the communication. Yet, gravity unites everyone and everything in a common dependence upon and resistance to the magnetism of the earth. By shaping our physical motion, gravity becomes a creative force, an authoritative energy with which the artists in the exhibition engage, whether as collaborators or resisters.
Peter Garfield, although he depicts objects rather than humans in a state of free-fall, also makes gravity literal. In Mobile Home (Manifest Destiny) (1996), his plunging house, photographed a mere moment before disaster, starkly contracts with its placid desert surroundings- a straightforward depiction of a whimsical and wholly preposterous situation.
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Kohler Arts Center
Sheboygan, WI, USA
Threshold: The Domestic in Contemporary Art
April 30 – August 15, 1999
Curated by Andrea Inselmann
The dictionary definition of the word “threshold” refers to an object- a plank, a piece of timber, or stone- placed beneath a door. In its broader, more experiential sense, however, the threshold suggests transitional spaces- first between inside and outside and then extending to those subtle regions between cold and warm, dark and light, danger and safety, strange and familiar, vastness and intimacy. Mediating between these binary oppositions the threshold manifests the characteristics of a boundary that, simultaneously demarcating both here and there, opens a gap in lived experience.
The artists in the exhibition, THRESHOLD: Invoking the Domestic in Contemporary Art, guide the viewer through doors, windows, screens, and curtains to discover spaces and objects located in the nooks and crannies of the imagination. Their works engage Gaston Bachelard’s views on domestic space and show that “the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind.” The house and its contents reverberate with powerful memories and images. As Bachelard notes, “the house furnishes us dispersed images and a body of images at the same time,” rendering it at once identifiable place and place of identity. Straddling the borderline between objects and experience, the home resonates with both actual and symbolic meanings. For its thematizing of the practical functions of containing, securing, and sheltering expands to include the broader physical and psychological needs that those functions serve.
Both Gregory Crewdson and Peter Garfield search beneath the tranquil surface of domestic life to uncover a sense of anxiety and alienation. Crewdson’s staged, untitled photographs, which resemble wide-angle cinematic stills, reflect the changing sense of neighborhood in contemporary domestic culture. While it may not be noted immediately, something is always awry in Crewdson’s photographs that take ordinary, daily activities such as moving and planting and make them seem irrational.
Garfield’s photographs can be interpreted within the dialogic relationship of the miniature and the gigantic as he throws tiny scale models of split-level homes and ranch houses in the air to be photographed with considerable deliberation against a huge sky. Examining the representation of these distortions in scale in literary and visual works, poet Susan Stewart notes in On Longing:
… while the miniature presents a mental world of proportion, control, and balance, the gigantic presents a physical world of disorder and disproportion. It is significant that the most typical miniature world is the domestic model of the dollhouse, while the most typical gigantic world is the sky- a vast, undifferentiated space marked only by the constant movement of clouds with their amorphous forms.
Merging all the metaphorical and poetical ramifications of the miniature and the gigantic, Garfield’s photographs attempt to signify the fragility and vulnerability of our homes when opposed to the anonymity and the vastness of the world. Their associations to Dorothy’s journey in the Wizard of OZ, or to more recent manifestations in Twister and real-life disasters, inspire a strange mixture of anxiety and wistful recollection.
The works included in THRESHOLD present contradictions similar to those of domesticity itself at the end of the millennium: On the one hand, the artists give expression to the alienation enacted in the domestic sphere due to the infiltration of virtuality and fragmentation, while, on the other, they engage such basic human necessities as shelter, security, food, and warmth- still central to our understanding of house and home. Their work is thus located at significant boundaries of contemporary lived experience. While these works began in familiar spaces and with everyday objects, as they cross the threshold into the nonplace of the gallery, they reverberate with both memories of imagined pasts and projections into the future.
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Independent Curators International (ICI)
New York, NY, USA
Traveled to the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT; Reykjavik Municipal Art Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME; Bayly Art Museum, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA; Bakalar Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, MA; Emerson Gallery, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY
Making It Real
1997 – 1999
Curated by Vik Muniz
Today, in the aftermath of significant breakthroughs in the field of digital imaging, the photographer’s control over the image is potentially unlimited. This new development raises interesting questions. How will the way we look at the photographs change? How can a photograph be trusted as a reliable picture of reality? And how will our memory of the past, which is so often buttressed by photographic images, be affected?
Whenever a powerful new technology has been introduced in the past, it has forced the reexamination of existing technologies and their power and purpose within society. In the nineteenth century, the advent of photography allowed painters to move away from “factual” representation, and to develop a more conspicuous style of execution. Surface and texture became important issues, brush strokes more signature-like; the painting’s “truth” became imbedded in its treatment of the subject, rather than the subject itself.
In a similar way, digital imaging has exposed long overlooked aspects of photography, forcing the medium to abandon all ambitions toward either absolute truth or persuasive illusion, and to assume a more critical position. As a result artistic photography has either become more casual (snapshots and unfinished-looking printing) or overtly staged in such a way that the viewer can trace the entire mechanism of representation in the image. This latter strategy, which allows for a greater degree of variety and complexity than the former is the subject of this exhibition. It is significant that this investigation of staged photography should occur at a time when technical developments in the field of digital imaging have ostensibly rendered pre-photographic fabrication completely obsolete. In the face of such sophisticated technology, set-up photography can be used as a critical tool to expose the photograph’s illusion of reality. By choosing to fabricate their subjects and photograph them without much artifice, the photographers in this exhibition ultimately resurrect a nostalgic view of photographic subject as a staged presentation.
“The Mobile-Home series uses airborne houses in various stages of destruction as a signifier for psychic trauma. Influenced partly by media images of natural disasters, I am interested in transforming logical and emotional elements contained behind the typical American suburban facades of decorum and well-being.
“These images are from single, unmanipulated 35mm negatives shot of model houses that I build. I enhance the mundane, ‘snapshot’ quality (with grainy film and by creating a blur effect) to further confound the viewer’s sense of what is reality and what is fantasy.”
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Queen Museum Of Art
Queens, NY, USA
February 23 - May 24, 1998
Curated by Jane Farver, Director of Exhibitions
Influenced by cinematic genres ranging from the documentary to science fiction, from film noire to the home movie, Peter Garfield’s photographs call into question the veracity of the photographic image. His images, which are neither manipulated nor computer generated, placidly present us with the implausible. A house streaks across a winter sky in his Mobile Home (Thaw); another dwelling hovers in the clouds in Mobile Home (Communique). In Annunciation VII, an ax mysteriously completes its trajectory arc and falls towards the earth. A colossal arm comes in contact with an enigmatic saucer-shaped object in Deliverance: MJ-12. These unmistakably American images evoke Levittown, the Wizard of Oz, Lizzie Borden, and Pizza Hut. As Garfield’s banal objects hurtle through the air, we experience queasy feelings of awe and apprehension. Could some random force also cause us to come loose from our psychological moorings—simultaneously depriving us of shelter and offering a promise of escape? The America of homogeneous suburban security has been demythologized for decades. For Garfield and other artists of his generation, born in the 1960’s and after, ambiguity is the object. His photos reassure us that while we can be sure of nothing, opportunity may be found by sailing into unknown territory.
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University Art Museum
University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
The Lie of the Land
November 24, 1996 – February 2, 1997
Curated by Elizabeth A. Brown
The phrase “lay of the land” generally implies a rather prosaic, matter-of-fact view of the “way things are” geographically, a sort of objective baseline against which additional factors, cultural impositions, are judged. In fact, no view taken of the land is ever so innocent, just as the land itself is rarely uninflected by human action. The land does not speak eternal truth and beauty, however much our culture might need such paradisiacal myths: the land does not speak at all, and to pretend that the land has, if only one could recover it, a pristine voice is to make the land lie- and to make a lie of the land.
Presented in conjunction with a community-wide “celebration of landscape art,” this exhibition surveys very recent work on the subject. The Lie of the Land is a theme show insofar as each of the artists in it confronts one theme: that place where the natural world meets representations of it, in short, “landscape.” The familiar phrase, “landscape art,” is actually redundant, for the notion of landscape originated in and always presupposes art practices. Whether an actual painting (or photograph, drawing, tableau, or other authored object) or the worldly “portion of territory that the eye can comprehend in a single view,” landscape is a product of culture, understood only in relation to the conventions of visual representation. An object of fantasy, nostalgia, or desire, “landscape represents more what we want to see than what is empirically present.
On the other hand, The Lie of the Land is anti-thematic because it emphasizes above all difference- between artists, between each individual’s understanding of nature, between recurrent uses of an unfixed but familiar semantic term. Like the parable of several blind men describing an elephant, each from his own discrete point of view, the artists in this exhibition select a distinct aspect of “landscape” to explore. From the (visual) beauty of (politically) problematic motifs to the epistemological “nature” of nature, the province they may choose to delineate is boundless. Exploring theatricality, documentary accuracy, or the pastoral mode, among other conventions, each focuses on a different terrestrial theme.
Referencing his native suburbia, Peter Garfield constructs beautifully detailed scale models of tract housing. These structures become the animated subjects of staged photographs in locales “throughout the U.S.,” from New Hampshire to Los Angeles. In each the flying house looks similar and only the blurred foliage near the bottom of the picture distinguishes one site from the next. The lyrical clouds and dense growth of trees in Mobile Home (Split Level) [VII] recall the flying house of The Wizard of Oz; the scrubby palm tree in Mobile Home (Angelino) signals more natural disasters.
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Brooklyn, NY, USA
June 1 - June 24, 1996
Pierogi 2000 is pleased to present Peter Garfield’s first solo show in New York. Pter has exhibited widely in New York at White Columns, Micahel Klein Gallery, and Barbara Mathes Gallery among others. He is known mostly for his photographs of flying hammers and axes and flying houses, used as metaphors for arbitrariness and psychic trauma. These images are intended to imply incidents of random violence or disaster—acts that defy reason and our moral sense of right—while seeking the potential for these acts to convey a sense of beauty and humor as well.
In this exhibition Garfield’s new series of photographs continues his obsession with ideas concerning the sky and flight and brings to them a heightened sense of mystery.
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Center for Photography at Woodstock
Woodstock, NY, USA
Miami-Dade Community College, Miami, FL, USA
Curated by Joseph Wolin
The fast-encroaching century will be starting with a whimper, not a bang. Any millennial visions, utopian or otherwise, seem to have atomized in a fine mist of petty dystopias and familiar circumscriptions. Our last nerves have been worked, our teeth set on edge, and comfort and assurance are the chimeras that trouble our restless dreams. We seem to exist in a state of distemper, “a social and cultural anxiety that permeates the West as the end of the millennium approaches.” Like the last fin de siécle, this one is producing its fair share of neurasthenic aesthetics, art that invokes and embodies contemporary unease. The photographs under discussion here do not easily allow themselves to be sorted into the compartments of epistemological certainty. Rather, they fall into the spaces between. They are unsettled images, ambivalent and anxious. They are photographs that fidget under the cold glare of a transfixing gaze. More an operation than a theme, anxiety in these works is not so much pictured as incited; these images provoke and produce apprehension and frustration. They do not provide one with an unmoving place to stand, nor a stationary point of view from which to see them. These images place the viewer in a region between knowing and doubt, reality and artifice, meaning and nonsense. As much as choosing to signify, these photographs, like an abstract painting in an Ad Reinhardt cartoon, ask what we represent.
Peter Garfield’s large-scale-images of objects flying across expanses of cloudy skies bear the titles Angels and Annunciations. Distance and shutter speed collude in some of these black-and-white photographs to permit the recognition of the blurred items hurtling through space as tools: axes and hammers. Like strange birds, the utilitarian implements travel across the stormy heavens (Angels) or, irresistibly drawn by the gravity of the earth, glimpsed in the lower edges of the picture, begin their rapid acceleration downward (Annunciations). Monumentality, religiosity, and the implacable knowledge of the trajectory and velocity of sharp or blunt instruments combine to imply a divine visitation coupled with impending violence. Axes and hammers, speeding through the ether in place of any celestial messenger, stand as both sacred and profane, comic and portentous, allegories of contemporary foreboding.
But while the near sublimity of turbulent skies and supernatural intervention, inflected by the displaced mundaneness of the airborne hardware, achieves a black comedy, Garfield images allegories without referent. The angel carries no particular message, the annunciator stays mute; the pictures elicit a generalized apprehension that feels palpable yet remains vague: signs without signifieds taken for wonders without cause. Garfield conjures metaphors of unreasonable dread, pictorial analogues to conditions of paranoia or delusion, tempered only by their steadfast grip upon the literal. It is impossible not to remember that household tools have been flung into the air and photographed before they fell back down to the ground. This collapsing of the allusional onto the quotidian, of an uncanny proleptic economy onto an awkward rattletrap materialism, effects a discomfiture of its own and enunciates a doubled apprehension: a crisis of a crisis of category, an anxiety of anxiety.
Beck and Garfield each employ inanimate objects as symbols, emblematizing personal and social conditions that are conflicted and nervous. Applying paradox and enigma, their photographs set in motion a mechanism of artifice and revelation, uneasiness and deferral, uncertainty and doubt. Conceptually discontinuous, the objects depicted become implausible metaphors, the images anxious poetry.
Within the convention of the unadulterated photographic print, these six artists confound traditional denominations by producing failed portraiture, frustrated narrative, and unstill life. Generating uncertainty, deferring closure, multiplying apprehensions, and compounding investments, these photographers fashion realities consonant with the psychic and intellectual disposition of the fin de siécle, the extremity of an age in which even its most fundamental beliefs, “paradigms of modernist physics-uncertainty, entropy, relativity- evoke an inscrutable, alienating world, where absolutes give way to incommensurable subjectivities, order fizzles into randomness, and progress seems overshadowed by a fallout cloud.” At the close of an uneasy century, these artists decline the presupposed and the soothing to create phantasmatic spaces of high anxiety.
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New York, NY, USA
Verisimilitude And The Utility of Doubt
January 6 - February 5, 1995
Curated by Bill Arning and Gregory Crewdson
(Excerpt from catalogue essay)
The photographs of Steve Giovinco, Marcelo Krasilic, and Peter Garfield utilize the iconography of the family snapshot. They do not, however, picture the home as a place of comfort and stability. Instead, they search beneath the veneer of domestic life to uncover an underlying sense of anxiety and alienation.
Garfield’s recent photographs, entitled Mobile Homes, are a series of mock documentary tableaux of levitating houses hovering over ordinary suburban communities. The collision between the normal and the paranormal produces an uncanny tension that transforms the topography of the suburban landscape into a place of wonder and anxiety. Although these hallucinatory images are carefully staged photographs of miniature model houses pictured against actual suburban settings, they have the visceral immediacy of amateur photographs. Garfield mimics the style of the anonymous snapshot, through the deliberate use of blurring, limited focus, exaggerated grain, awkward framing, and disorienting camera position. These visual strategies function not only to increase the credibility of his photographs, but also challenge the reliability of photographic proof and evidence.
If classical documentary photography positions itself as the photography of truth, then postmodernism, with its deep mistrust of photographic reality, is , in effect, the photography of lies. On the whole, the artists include in Verisimilitude and the Utility of Doubt occupy a potent intersection that merges the poetics of documentary style photography with postmodernism’s preoccupation with unreality and artifice. This oscillation between the extremes of documentary and postmodern photography is not a consequence of indecision. On the contrary, these artists’ views of the world are shaped by a sensibility that exists between photographic truth and photographic lies. They are the photographs of half truths.
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