128 Rivington Street
19 February -15 March 2003
Works by four younger photographers, two American and two Austrian, all of whom deal with architecture without being ‘architectural photographers,’ have been selected by the modernist art historian and critic Joseph Masheck. All four—Norbert Artner, Tyko Lewis, Toki Ozaki and Johanes Wegerbauer—take photographs of buildings at night as well as in the daytime. Outdoor architectural photography is usually ‘diurnal,’ meaning daytime, except that, by the much less common term for the much more commonplace thing, its being so doesn’t normally matter. Emphasizing the diurnal as counterpart to the nocturnal is not mean to imply any favoring, by the artists here(or me), of twilight. I admit that I have always loved the passage in Whistler’s ‘Ten O’Clock Lecture’ (of 1885) praising the beauty of the urban twilight when “the tall chimneys become campanili, and the warehouses are palaces in the night,” so that “Nature, . . . for once, hassung in tune”; but I am not especially concerned with twilight here. And as for buildings at night as a theme, the problem is that night-pictures of buildings with electric light spilling out the windows are as a rule no more architectural than a mask with a flashlight behind it is a ‘face.’ In his large-format images Norbert Artner’s Austrian industrial motifs look big but incidental, maybe even a bit unstable (unlike the Bechers’intact and squared-away specimens). Tyko Lewis evokes the lived space of a ‘built environment’ at night by the barest glint, on wet Brooklyn cobblestones, of street lamps like muffled fog-horns, as well as approaching an old ‘daylight factory’ facade with uncanny obliquity. Toki Ozaki’s image of a Lower East Side wall propped-up against collapse summons up the whole Gothic alternative of the ad-hoc buttress over and against the ever-regular classical column or pier, while other of her photos encompass cityscape incidents that are irreducibly architectural as edged by walls. At archetypal New York sites, the Viennese Johannes Wegerbauer may evoke Erich Mendelsohn (Amerika: Bilderbuch eines Architekten, 1926), while at home as well as here he has a way of taking architectural modernism in stride, quite without pressurizing it. Architectural photography often seems haunted by the specter of graphic formalism, if only because buildings, even non-rectilinear ones, seem readily to pose, pre-composed, for the camera. Without getting into the conventionality of Western perspective, established in the XV century by architects, one of the more interesting problems is the challenge to avoid compositional obviousness. But if by a venerable trope (difficult to trace no doubt because it always seems original) sculpture is art that one can stumble against in a dark room, then architecture is art that one rattles around within, as much between buildings as within their inner chambers. The architectural experience, which is mainly but not only visual, takes place in reaction to the bounding planes of man-made space-enclosures, even as perceived from without, with their location, size and nature registering in the bounced-back probing of one’s approach, as these photographers seem variously aware.
Joseph Masheck, is a art critic and Professor of Art History