Troy Brauntuch

Friedrich Petzel Gallery

On view through May 17, 2008
by Nicole J. Caruth

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      Troy Brauntuch, Untitled (Pool 3), 2008
      Conte on cotton
      83 x 110 inches
      Courtesy of Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York.
      Photography by Lamay Photo.

      View Gallery

      The Pictures exhibition at Artists Space in 1977, according to received art historical wisdom, marked a critical moment in contemporary art. For what it’s worth, art critic Jerry Saltz recently included the exhibition in a forty-year chronicle of artists and art world events that ostensibly comprise “The New York Canon.” He wrote:

      "The Pictures exhibition at Artists Space [in New York…], curated by Douglas Crimp, with artists Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and Philip Smith, signaled a change in artistic atmosphere to a more theoretical, cerebral, critical approach. This cool, collected, theory-based work is antithetical to nascent Neo-Expressionist and Graffiti art of the same moment."*

      Nearly three decades later, new works by Austin-resident Troy Brauntuch are, in fact, hard to pinpoint as part of either the rule (read canon) or the exception. While the work continues to be distinctive, it’s also conventional and, for the most part, relevant to just a small intellectual art circle.

      Brauntuch’s second solo exhibition at Friedrich Petzel Gallery is comparable in tone to Saltz’s description—cold, investigative and obscure. Six conté on cotton photo-based images bring to mind the artist’s mildly praised work in the 2006 Whitney Biennial (not to mention, a Biennial comparatively more thoughtful than the installation of recent months). A superficial fog and look of premeditated “camera-shake” make it difficult to grasp images with certainty. In the current environment of extreme media transparency, this is visually more engaging than one might imagine. Though distance brings some images into focus—for example, various angles of a solarium-covered pool come into view—I can only discern others—a butterfly pavilion and a dry cleaner’s—by the parenthetical hints in their titles. The backside of a thickly woven suit and scarf, in a direct sight line from the gallery’s front door, highlights Brauntuch’s skillful interrogation of banality. In this instance, it’s as if someone has opened a coffin to find only material remnants of the deceased; body and soul have taken flight.

      Four small digital images in the back gallery are injurious to the experience. The crystal clarity of an underwater pool vacuum, which in conté was murkily depicted amongst water, lounge chairs and palm trees, counteracts a major strength of Brauntuch’s work: ambiguity. These photographs point out how deadly boring the stuff of Brauntuch’s straightforward photography can truly be.

      For better or worse, much of what I glean from the conté on cotton images (certainly the highlights of the show) has been written repeatedly over the past three decades. A colleague reminds me, however, that “It’s the good stuff that lasts,” and continues to resurface despite the trends of the time, even if it falls into some narrow canon along the way. With luck, Johanna Burton and Douglas Eklund will offer a fresh perspective on Brauntuch's work in the artist's monograph to be published this fall.

      *quote from Jerry Saltz, "The New York Canon," Artnet Magazine, April 23, 2008, www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/saltz/saltz4-23-08.asp.

      Nicole J. Caruth is a freelance writer and curator based in Brooklyn , New York. She is a frequent blogger for Art21. Her personal blog, Contemporary Confections, merges two of her greatest loves: art and sweet foodstuffs.

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