Claire Falkenberg

Champion, Austin

Through July 18
by Noah Simblist

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      Claire Falkenberg
      Thorns
      2010
      Oil on collaged C-print
      59 x 58 inches
      Courtesy of the artist

      View Gallery

      Like a series of black holes and nebulae hovering in a white room, the objects in Claire Falkenberg’s Bloom combine painting, photography and collage to create abstractions that are disorienting and oblique. These large-scale works confront our bodies in an ambiguous way, occluding pictorial spaces that elide an easy reading.

      Many of these works began with offhand snapshots taken by Falkenberg in her native Brooklyn. We can still discern the remnants of cracked sidewalks, piles of trash and the crusty soiled edges of a melting city snow pile. She then pieces these prints together and paints large clouds of black or off-white over them until the photographic image is nearly covered. The resulting redaction of visual information abstracts a scenario that might be read in terms of instances of the everyday, turning the image into a situation where we are forced to experience each picture on its own terms, without obvious references to narrative or place.

      The work succeeds because of its resistance to ideological purities that might privilege or critique media specificity. Rosalind Krauss described contemporary, post-Conceptualist art practice as a post-medium condition, which resists the medium specificity that Clement Greenberg advocated. Looking around at contemporary art practice today, Krauss’s term seems apt. These pictures don’t read as a battle between painting and photography for primacy. We are beyond that tired discourse, and thankfully Falkenberg has given herself the freedom to move on. However, the intuitive nature of her practice runs the risk of becoming a kind of mannerist post-medium condition, where criticality of any kind is lost in the miasma of process.

      Falkenberg’s exhibition is paired with a small group of works by Barry Stone that also engage drawing, painting, photography and collage to create ambiguous, semi-abstract images that resist the documentary impulse. One oval image by Stone of some foliage painted yellow, entitled Groundcover (2011), plays with the relationship between landscape, paint and photography in a similar way to Falkenberg, but here, Stone reorganizes the order of operations. Stone photographs an example of natural phenomena that has literally been painted, as opposed to Falkenberg who photographs natural phenomena then paints on the photographic print. Extending the play between media with the drawing Diamond With Contours 1 (2011), Stone shows us the literal trail of a sumi ink brush through a diamond window. When combined with the photograph Diamond Burnet Road, Austin, TX (2009)an image of a huge sparkling diamond floating in front of a pastoral mountain range that was shot from a jewelry store windowthese works question scale, fidelity, materiality and relative value.

      Stone’s diamond hovers over a landscape, much like Falkenberg’s glowing shapes act as a clouded blur over her photographic images. For both, the constructed notion of nature seems to play a role. Falkenberg’s one-word titles like Dusk, Forest, Conifers, Thorns and Moon cast her transformed pictures of urban detritus in a Romantic light. By contrast, when Stone compares a diamond and a mountain, he evokes the commodification of natural materials and the social, political and economic conditions that highly pressurized carbon can provoke.

      Stone and Falkenberg raise a problem with the practice of photography that is not unlike the difficulty of identity. While it is liberating to move away from being constantly categorized in terms of your race, ethnicity or religion, the option of disinheriting one’s background and diving headfirst into the melting pot of assimilation doesn’t seem so great, either. Similarly, practitioners of photography shouldn’t have to choose between the ghetto of the medium and the complete loss of tradition. While Falkenberg’s images are beautiful, seductive and novel in many ways, Stone does a much better job of using each image to produce a third option that allows for criticality: self-reflexivity in terms of an ever evolving history of the medium, and the possibility of moving back and forth between multiple ways of making.

      Noah Simblist is an Associate Professor of Art at SMU and a PhD student in art history at the University of Texas, Austin.

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