Todd Eberle: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Yet while Eberle's goal may have seemed clear, its contextualization introduced certain ambiguities. The show was mounted in SF MOMA's architecture and design galleries, yet the work has little in common with traditional architectural photography of the sort practiced by Julius Schulman, famed for his shots of twentieth-century architectural classics. Eberle's interiors are depopulated, flattened, and abstracted--an approach that he developed while shooting buildings for the likes of Vanity Fair. In their consideration of the built environment, the images evoke those of Andreas Gursky--Brasilia, General Assembly 1, 1994, in particular--but when Gursky's touring midcareer retrospective appeared at the Museum in 2003, it was presented in galleries designated more emphatically as spaces for art, suggesting a critical difference in curatorial perception of the artists' intent.
Eberle's Untitled No. 2, 2002, Chuck Bassett/Skidmore, Owings & Merrill follows in Gursky's mode, minus the latter's emphasis on perspective. Eberle's photograph, taken in the 1963 Tennessee Pipeline Company Building in Houston, shows a dense grid of small illuminated squares emerging from a dark background, though the light and dark areas are so flattened out that it is impossible to discern scale or material. Less a critique than a formal appreciation, it has a glamorous, slightly Op art look. In the show's introductory wall text, curator Joseph Rosa acknowledges Gursky as an influence, but also claims that Eberle's pictures are an attempt to visually align modernist architecture with Minimalist art, describing the series as "so highly edited that it almost appears as a photographic record of work by the artist Agnes Martin." Untitled No. 4, 2002, Gordon Bunshaft/Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, an image of Lever House in New York, comes closest to justifying this comparison. Yet while the photograph features a more delicate line than that found in most of Eberle's shots, it remains larger, bolder, and glossier than any of Martin's spare compositions.
In addition to his architectural studies, Eberle is well known for his early celebrity portraits in Interview magazine in the '90s, and for his documentation of Donald Judd's Marfa compound. This diverse portfolio complicates our approach to his current series, encouraging us to consider it as an attempt to exploit or transcend the restrictions of magazine commissions. Eberle's riffs on modernism, while hardly as substantial as Gursky's, remain effective in highlighting a shift from ideology to style while both alluding to mystical undertones and honoring the dignified purity of its original conception.
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|Date:||Mar 1, 2006|
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