As part of the Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time initiative to
commemorate the birth of LA’s art scene, Cherry and Martin Gallery has
restaged the historic 1970 exhibition Photography Into Sculpture,
curated by Peter Bunnell. First exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art
in New York, the show went on to tour the United States and Canada
through 1971. Bringing together sculptural photographic works by various
artists – most from the West Coast – it celebrates not only LA’s
contributions to the art world, but also the aesthetic and technological
advances that allowed for the innovation ever-present in this show.
Much of the show’s excitement comes from the variety of previously untapped techniques employed by this group of artists. Vacuum-molding, textiles, three-dimensional constructions, contouring, and light transmission are just some of the methods used to achieve dimensionality. When Photography Into Sculpture was first exhibited in 1970, curator Peter Bunnell wrote: “It is not what is nominally said that counts in a work of art, it is what the artist makes with such intensity of perception that it lives with an intrinsic truth of its own.” And indeed, the show seems to speak to a moment when experimentation and voracious ingenuity resulted in honest and joyful expression.
This joyfulness is evident in works that contain humor or winks about the medium and its functions. LA artist Robert Heinecken’s “puzzles” are made from photographs and wood. Fractured Figure Sections resembles a Rubik’s cube – one must twist it to line up the images. Multiple Solution Puzzle takes the more traditional approach with pieces laid out on a flat surface. By making use of photographs containing recognizable forms – body parts, for example – it is easy to imagine all of the pieces coming together. However in truth, the abstract photos will never match up and we are left to question our interaction with the object and the power of perception. Through these works that emphasize photography’s ability to transpose, Heinecken was able to elevate (quite literally) his career-long fixation on challenging the viewer through play with consciousness, duality, and the elusive.
Many works in the show manage levels of accessibility or effortlessness in spite of truly radical innovations. An expressly sculptural work, Robert Brown and James Pennuto’s vacuum-formed plastic Hill uses a photoserigraph of rocky terrain to add texture through illusion to the plastic’s smooth surface. Robert Watts’ BLT preserves the photo transparency’s original flatness, making its context responsible for the dimensional leap. Dale Quarterman’s perfectly crafted styrofoam sculptures use depth and layering to allow for the merging of several photographic moments at once. Jerry McMillian’s Torn Bag remarks on photography’s original iteration but cleverly hides it in the sheep’s clothes of objectness.
Despite the often unmistakable 1960s “vibe” of the works, there is a
refreshing energy and momentum that persists. To view one object is to
want to view another — to see what nimble execution or invention will
come next. In looking back at a moment when these artists were looking
forward we directly observe art’s spirit of evolution.
Photography Into Sculpture
September 10 – October 22, 2011
Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles