Critics’ Picks

Adam Putnam, Eclipse, 2016–17, gelatin silver print, 8 x 10".

Adam Putnam, Eclipse, 2016–17, gelatin silver print, 8 x 10".

New York

Adam Putnam

535 West 22nd Street Third Floor
November 16–December 23, 2017

The subjects of the fifty-four intimate photographs and eighty-four short films that comprise Adam Putnam’s exhibition “Portholes” include in situ windows and doors, disjunctive architectural elements, celestial light sources, ranks of trees, and spans of dune. Also, there is the occasional human, shrouded or otherwise obscured. The photos’ gauzy processing strips away detail so that bodies and objects take on a degree of abstraction. The blur is never so much as to imply nostalgia or squander Putnam’s precision; paradoxically, it clarifies. The result is a kind of cerebral psychedelia—Kenneth Anger on some mordant ADHD meds. In Cushions, 2016–17, a long, flat pillow almost levitates; in Sandman, 2016–17, a fracturing of white, black, and gray in myriad shades—seemingly a metallic blanket covering someone’s head and shoulders—frustrates visual resolution in the foreground. Almost anything planar seems as if it could “flip” visually and become not an object but a gateway. A trio of Corner works, numbered I, IV, and V, 2016–17, resemble that illusionistic line drawing that oscillates between suggesting a cube and a room. The moon appears in a work titled Eclipse, 2016–17, not as an object but as a cutout opening onto a realm of light.

The snippet-like films of Reclaimed Empire (2010–17) follow a similar path, a little clearer-eyed but perhaps more eerie for it, abetted by a sparse but abrasive analog-synth sound track juxtaposed with sounds of nature. A nude form crouched under a Plexiglas construction stretches a limb; black mist drifts within a plywood chamber in front of a black-tipped column; a lens flare yellows out the head of someone gazing toward the sun. Putnam’s commitment to film as a medium—the photographs in the show are mostly gelatin silver, unique, and made from large-format negatives collected over the last decade—is at least correlative with his work’s occult overtones. For something to dematerialize, after all, there first has to be a tangible object.