Curated by Marc Freidus, this exhibit features sixteen large format photographs selected from projects completed during the past seven years. Regarding this work, The New York Times observed, “These images portray an otherworldly place that somehow feels familiar. . .and strangely beautiful.”
Decidedly not documentary photography, Staller captures a poetic visual order in the chaos of industrial sites. At construction sites, recycling plants, and the sides of roads – the kinds of places that go unnoticed by most people, Staller finds unintentional, serendipitous beauty. In “Pilings, Flushing Queens,” the oxidized pilings seem to be a carefully thought out earthwork or a post-industrial petrified forest. Close viewing is rewarded by accents of color peeking through the narrow vertical spaces between the pilings.
In contrast to Staller’s earlier pioneering twilight and mixed light landscape photographs with their lurid skies, evocative color, and deep space, many of his recent pictures use a flat, white, daytime sky to isolate subjects in tightly framed shallow spaces. In “Tank Car In Snow, Port Reading New Jersey” the pure black form of the tank car is placed centrally within the enveloping white of a snowstorm, according the car an iconic stature.
Snow is used to strange effect in two other panoramic works. In a frontally formal composition, a plywood wall barricade appears to be a torn photograph resting on white paper. On closer examination it becomes apparent the torn edge consists of an uneven snowdrift. In another image, a battered blue cargo container is framed with drifting snow at top and bottom, the floating blue panel appearing as if it’s an archeological frieze.
In addition to investigating ambiguous spatial qualities, Staller’s images play with sculptural concerns such as weight and gravity. In one construction site photograph, “Grid and Culvert Tubes,” a study in black and silver, the wire grid overlaid on black fabric appears to be both foreground and background, magically supporting the massive galvanized steel spiral columns that comprise the upper half of the composition.
In the monochromatic “Target Floor, Missouri,” the repeated patterns of tire tracks covering a concrete floor bring to mind the shadings of a delicate charcoal drawing or the markings left behind by a strange yet-to-be-discovered sea monster that scuttled across the ocean floor.
The work in the show is balanced between monochromatic and vividly hued work. Extracted by photography from the real world, many of the objects seem to glow with color, at times confounding our notions about how to read a photograph. In “Rebar Cylinders” brightly colored dots looking like so many dabs of paint applied to the surface of the photograph, are in actuality the painted ends of rusted steel rods.
Rather than just showing us things as they appear, Staller presents his singular vision of aesthetic order and unexpected form that he finds in metamorphic landscapes.
Christian Marclay’s video installation, The Clock at Paula Cooper (through Feb 21) is likely the ne plus ultra of appropriaton art.
With appropriated imagery appearing in the work of so many contemporary artists, the prospect of seeing more popular imagery or ordinary objects brought to a gallery with the notion that the material is ‘recontextualized’ by the artist is not so promising. Equally, the prospect of viewing the Clock, 24 hours in duration, suggests at the very least hours of tedium. It is difficult to think of another artist’s work that demanded this much time to see the complete work. The idea of a 24 hour long art work might inspire questions of why?
However, Marclay’s concept is brilliant and dispels any skepticism; this instantly immersive video contemplates the passage of a day’s time. Using appropriated scenes from numerous movies, Marclay assembles snippets of film depicting the faces of clocks or watches as well as scenes where actors mention the time. Every minute of a day’s 24 hours is represented in sequence by multiple cinematic representations during each 60 second time span. For each specified minute, Marclay’s video might show cuts from several films. The segments are chosen from such a wide range of movies, that the physical task of gathering and assembling the fragments of that many moving images is prodigious in of itself. The whole video spools out with projected representations of real time- a quick glance at one’s watch confirms that the 7:04 PM shown on screen is correct.
Marclay didn’t simply find corresponding images of clocks and watches to stitch together to play out the 24 hours of elapsed time; his choices from the many film sources are extraordinary, surprising and masterful. The interweaving of film clips creates a disjunctive but narrative arc. If this concept was simply assembled with images of the requisite clock faces, the juxtaposed action and sound tracks from totally different films could have been jarring or incongruous. Marclay combines one sequence to another with sensitivity to the transitions of both the film sound tracks as well as how the last frame of action in a preceding clip leads into the action of the succeeding clip. In one scene from a foreign language film, a small boy gazes at dusty digital watches through a shop window. After a time, he enters the shabby shop. When the proprietor stoops behind the sales counter presumably to show something to the boy, Marclay cuts the scene before we can see the transaction. The next scene, in an expensively decorated room is of a gold pocket watch with cover being opened and wound. In many edits, the sound track from some earlier clips is carried over to the next clip. Sometimes Marclay’s video would return to a film used earlier and pick up the action from where it last left off. This mélange is at once musically and visually symphonic. The video is variously suspenseful, dramatic and funny, It is also highly anticipatory– much like watching a clock and hoping that time will pass, I found myself, at times, wondering when the next minute would be projected or spoken by an on screen actor.
Simply contemplating how the artist chose the segments of film and assembled the pieces into a 24 hour work is awe inspiring. So many thoughts come to mind in watching the cavalcade of imagery: what is happening in a particular clip; what film is it; when was it made; who are the actors, and lastly how great is the mind that envisioned this work? Of the many artists who choose to work with appropriated material, Marclay is possibly the most transformative of his material. One never forgets that the source material originated elsewhere, but the finished works are always truly recontexualized by the hand, mind and eye of this artist. The Clock has to be his most elaborate work to date. On Fridays the gallery is open overnight so that the complete cycle can be viewed. While the scale of the gallery screening is a very important aspect of viewing the work, I still wish that the work would be streamed on line. In that way one could access it over successive days and eventually see the entire video. This is a work of genius, and I long to get back to the gallery to spend more time watching the Clock.