Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sexy Rooms

Canon Falls (Cobain Room)
copyright Melanie Schiff, 2007

copyright Dirk Braeckman

from Fire Scene
copyright Sarah Pickering, 2007

Sometimes on my days off from working to pay NYC rent, I remind myself of the most obvious fact that the greatest luxury of living in this city is the ability to see extremely cool art beyond the internet on any given day. Recent trips away from my suburban haven in Brooklyn and into the big city led me to some beautiful and haunting rooms.

One of these rooms is currently on the wall of the Whitney Museum and was brought to us from Minnesota by a photographer based in Chicago, Melanie Schiff. Melanie has photographed a young woman standing with her back to us between parted curtains in a hotel room in Canon Falls, where Kurt Cobain recorded an album with Nirvana. The quality of light and the eerie lore surrounding the image left me standing in front of the it for a long time, mesmerized and quietly unnerved, and returning to it the following day. Her other images in the Biennial include similarly seductive and beautiful and pensive explorations of physical and psychological spaces such as a bathtub harboring an oversized house plant and a dark blue album decaying in a reflecting pool. Both resemble still life paintings and possess a simplicity and depth that rarely seems to be achieved so well in photographs.

I also liked what Melanie wrote about what motivates her work. She said "she wants to make photographs that are like a sad song that - even though created by someone else - somehow resonates with our own experience." She couldn't have accomplished that goal more poignantly, as far as I was concerned. It didn't seem accidental that her photographs were positioned in proximity to Robert Bechtle's photorealist paintings of empty, quiet, tranquil streets. The combination of these two bodies of work was the highlight of the Biennial for me, though I am admittedly biased and have a short attention span for the abundance of video and installation pieces.

I later discovered a vast series of rooms photographed by a Belgian photographer, Dirk Braeckman, at Robert Miller Gallery in Chelsea. When I moved to Minnesota in the winter of 2001, the first thing I bought was a small green book containing grainy black & white images of feebly flash-lit interiors with absolutely no trace of text. I fell in love with it in the bookstore at the Walker Art Center and brought it back to my suburban ranch house in St. Louis Park. I had never heard of Dirk Braeckman before and haven't heard of him since. According to The New Yorker, this is his first solo show in New York. The New Yorker described his noirish images of beds and couches and curtains and wallpaper as "deeply depressing" but I found them to be something more along the lines of profoundly mysterious.

Just one block below at Daniel Cooney Fine Art, I even got to see some rooms on fire. Wow. Sarah Pickering's new images were made in "burn units" - which, I learned, are fully furnished rooms rigged to teach forensic teams how to determine the origins of household fire and arsons. Well, the effect is astonishing. I couldn't stop wondering enviously how it is that some artists arrive at such crazy and amazing ideas. Why didn't I think of that? How fun would that have been to photograph? It appears from her website that Sarah is a big fan of explosions. Check it out.

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