Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brutalist Expanses: Beate Gütschow

Buildings, parking lots, shadows, stairways, and people in Berlin, Chicago, Kyoto, Sarajevo, New York, and especially Los Angeles are photographed by Beate Gütschow with analog film techniques. Duly appropriated, these elements of architecture from different parts of the world are reconfigured in digitally mastered panoramas. Basically, Gütschow’s finished works are montages conflating up to a hundred assembled images pulled from her expansive image archive. Unnerving in their contrasts, Gütschow’s interplay between light and shade gives an almost sinister edge to these meticulously staged works that will show at Sonnabend Gallery through July 31, 2009.

One can easily think that this series of post-apocalyptic “cityscapes” are real black-and-white photo documentary prints. Yet, on closer inspection, these images of “Brutalist” concrete architecture are recontextualized buildings standing in overbuilt expanses of derelict, tract housing developments. With their gigantic exhaust vents and deserted car parks, the totalitarian scale of those buildings looks more than real, as if a Robert Moses urban renewal nightmare. Dazed groups of homeless individuals and tourists wander amid Gütschow’s presented “alternate” present and future replete with its wreckage of burnt cars in a disorienting urban terrain beset by decay.

The influence of French classical painter Nicolas Poussin—with his emphasis upon clarity, logic, order, and preference for line over color—upon Gütschow’s work is unmistakable. Additionally, these works are reminiscent of architectural and documentary photography from the 1950s and 1960s. Beyond this, the silence and starkness of her work bespeak a “real” trauma: Despite the flawless interface between the synthesized images, their inherent contradictions are not without impact. Despite the fictional nature of the montages, viewers can ascertain impact of potential and “failed” social engineering through a visceral architecture of alienation. Gütschow’s black-and-white photography signifies a jaded weltanschauung, and portends a less-than-engineered future. “Windchill Factor Minus Zero” (Boomtown Rats), “Live During Wartime” (David Byrne), “Fahrenheit 451,” “Clockwork Orange,” and “Mad Max” have truly come to pass in her portfolio.

Living and working in Berlin, Gütschow studied at the School of Fine Arts (Hamburg) and School of Fine Arts (Oslo) and has participated in one-person and group exhibitions at venues in Germany including Stadtische Galerie, (Nordhorn), Produzentengalerie (Hamburg), Kunsthistotisches Institut (Bonn), and Bundeskunsthalle (Bonn). Her work can be found in such collections as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Modern Art (New York), and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Despite their desolation, there is a compelling—if unsettling— energy in her post-apocalyptic scenes. Gütschow’s tableau—in its more extreme juxtaposition—grants the viewer a less constrained and more accessible “narrative.”

Beate Gütschow

@ Sonnabend Gallery

Through July 31, 2009
536 West 22nd Street, NYC 10011

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