Critics’ Picks

Untitled, 2007, mixed media on paper, 38 x 30".

Untitled, 2007, mixed media on paper, 38 x 30".

New York

Adam Putnam

Taxter & Spengemann
459 West 18th Street
April 28–May 26, 2007

Prior to bankrolling a Gothic Revival masterpiece, Fonthill Abbey, William Beckford penned Vathek (1782), the tale of a caliph dabbling in the supernatural. Vathek’s holdings include the expected panoply of Orientalist pleasures: the Eternal or Unsatiating Banquet, the Palace of Perfumes, and the Delight of the Eyes, where “a well-managed perspective attracted the sight . . . [and] the magic of optics agreeably deceived it.” This collision of the Gothic, the erotic, and the optic is central to Adam Putnam’s current solo show. Like one of its preoccupying motifs, corners, the exhibition is the intersection of three surfaces: pastel drawings of displaced Gothic structures, silver gelatin photographs alternating between close-ups of corners and Putnam wearing a pair of jeans over his head, and Green Hallway (Magic Lantern), 2007, a projection of an endlessly receding corridor, cast by a trick construction of mirrors, tinted cellophane, and a bare bulb. “Perhaps the erotic rests not in the depiction of bodies but in the depiction of space,” posits Putnam. Certainly, his renderings of spires and recessed entries evoke the Gothic’s nervous sexual energy. This commingling of flying buttresses and phantasmagoria fixes the exhibition to the Gothic Revival—an architectural movement spurred on by literary conceits like Vathek and intensified by concurrent experiments with optics (including the lavish magic-lantern spectacle Beckford commissioned for Fonthill). This places the exhibition’s photography—of obscured bodies and ambiguous junctures—in a curious position as both optical effects and renderings of space. Hastily constructed, Fonthill collapsed in 1825. Putnam sifts among the ruins.