The Ostentatiously Weird and Elegantly Beautiful, Part 1: Please Pardon the Unidentified Flying Object
Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Left: Oliver Wasow (American, b. 1960). Soft Landing, 1987. Dye transfer print; Image: 74.9 x 76.2 cm (29 1/2 x 30 in.); Frame: 81.3 x 79.7 cm (32 x 31 3/8 in.) Collection of the artist. Right: Yves Klein (French, 1928–1962). Leap into the Void, 1960. Gelatin silver print; Image: 25.9 x 20 cm (10 3/16 x 7 7/8 in.); Frame: 43.2 x 35.6 cm (17 x 14 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1992 (1992.5112) © Yves Klein, ADAGP, Paris; Photo: Shunk-Kender © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation
«Let's consider these two images aesthetically, as visual matter to be both analytically dissected and emotionally felt.» Trick photographs—like many of the pieces displayed in the Met's Faking It exhibition—too quickly become only novel oddities, praised yet simultaneously degraded for their camp value. This isn't necessarily bad for some of the pieces; there are plenty of photographs in the exhibition that are pretty much "camp" personified, and they should be recognized and appreciated as such (for instance, a morbidly hilarious corner of the exhibition boasts an expansive collection of black-and-white photographs that share the motif of decapitation). However, some pieces such as the stunningly beautiful Soft Landing and the measuredly elegant Leap into the Void transcend this status and develop a level of pure aesthetic grace that surpasses—yet still acknowledges—trick photography's roots in the bizarre.
But let's forget about that for now. Let's forget that an unidentified flying object is hovering in the sky and that a man is jumping off a building. Both of these photographs are visual gold mines, even when you disregard their subject matter. Let's take Soft Landing for instance. At least for me, Soft Landing's visual presence is as shocking as its subject matter. It is, in stupidly simple terms, just absolutely phantasmagorical looking. It has the perfect balance of mood and abstraction, an image that is evocatively and emotionally realistic yet very simple and pared down in its visual elements. Its colors are bold and rich, with enough cohesion and blotchy variation so that representational patterns begin to form. It's undeniably lovely in all fields: form, color, balance, and mood.
So, I'll leave you to ruminate. Check back next week for the second installment of this blog post, where you will hear more about the infamous Leap into the Void.