Critics’ Picks

Anna & Bernhard Blume, Hansel und Gretel, 1990/1991, gelatin silver prints, each 35  x 18".

Anna & Bernhard Blume, Hansel und Gretel, 1990/1991, gelatin silver prints, each 35 x 18".

New York

Anna and Bernhard Blume

Peter Freeman, Inc.
140 Grand Street
June 3–July 22, 2016

If Hitchcock could have hired El Lissitzky as a set designer and cast Pee-wee Herman as a lead, the results might have looked a lot like Anna & Bernhard Blume’s oeuvre. In “Scenes from a Photo-Novel”—the couple’s first solo show in New York since 1989—grids of black-and-white photos and drawings storyboard the mounting terror of a priggish German couple, acted out by the Blumes themselves, as sculptural elements and household objects begin to run amok and hurtle through space, seemingly vivified by an unseen, vengeful telekinetic. The hyperbolic physical comedy of a Saturday-morning cartoon prevails: A man clings for dear life to a falling tree, clutching his hat to his head, in Hansel and Gretel, 1990/1991. In Kuchenkoller (Kitchen Frenzy), 1985/2016, potatoes appear to emerge from a sieve and whirl across a room in ring formation.

Much can be said of the Blumes’ roots in the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where Joseph Beuys taught and Sigmar Polke was a classmate. And given that these gravity-defying scenes were created in the 1980s, one can’t help but wonder how some of them were shot pre-Photoshop. (With the help of safety nets and cushions, apparently.) But most intriguing is the extent to which this oeuvre, right now, feels fiercely contemporary, or at least astonishingly consonant with the concerns of a generation of emerging photographers, who—preferring cool formality over messy anthropology—are building elaborate, often semiabstract sets for their images, captivated by the picture plane’s primal role in their medium. The Blumes’ works evince a similar set of formal concerns, presciently exploring the overlap with filmic and graphic-novel representations of violence. In Transzendentaler Konstrukt (Transcendental Construct), 1992/2016, beams and blocks, sick of being objects, become pugilists instead, impaling Anna and socking Bernhard in the jaw. It all seems like a nightmare in which Constructivism’s legacy has come to life, determined to beat the crap out of its bourgeois inheritors.