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Michael Wolf.

Michael Wolf

Robert Koch Gallery | San Francisco, California

The Transparent City" (through January 3) features large-scale color photographs by German-born Michael Wolf, now based in Chicago. Composed of close-up or distant shots of cityscapes and high rise buildings, these images--inspired by Hitchcock's Rear Window as seen through the lens of Andreas Gursky--team with almost imperceptible yet tragically telling details of modern-day cliff dwellers. In them, we get to spy on a woman watching television, a man staring intently at the papers on his desk, a reclining figure, a shirtless, tattooed man on the phone.


At the farthest remove, Transparent City #46 (all work 2007-09) shows an aerial, long-exposure view of Chicago at night, equal parts blazing trails of zipping cars and uncanny empty roads lit by street lamps. Closer up, the building in #73 entirely fills the frame, its glass walls reflecting the surrounding towers at sunset. Several offices are illuminated, revealing isolated workers still toiling away at identical desks. These ribbons of light revealing the odd spark of inner life puncture the building's flat facade, while rendering the exterior sun-streaked reflection comparatively lifeless.

Zooming in, we can watch the denizens of this human zoo at closer quarters. In #28 an undressed man works at his desk, while in the vacant apartment just above him clothes have been hurriedly thrown over a chair, a conjunction that points to an unseemly proximity in modern urban living. #39 gives us a close-up slice of some 16 windows, all of which, save two, have identically drawn white blinds. The two exceptions reveal surprisingly little information about their interiors. Hanging out of one window, a girl peers down at something below, while only a shadowy leg can be glimpsed through the other, partially drawn window.


Encompassing a solitary window, #4 shows a woman sitting in an armchair, her legs comfortably propped on a footrest, sipping what one imagines is a cup of hot tea. But it's actually hard to tell, as the horizontal blinds tend to break up the image field into blurry strips. This damping effect is further heightened by heavy pixellation, rendering the image virtually illegible. The most poetic work in the show, the photograph easily undermines any glib assumptions we might have about the value of social visibility, and about how much information one can glean simply looking at pictures of people.

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Title Annotation:art exhibition called 'The Transparent City' at the Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco, California
Author:Szupinska, Joanna
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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