Critics’ Picks

Anna Vogel, Neo II, 2014, pigment print, varnish, polished stainless-steel frame, 21 x 16 cm".

Anna Vogel, Neo II, 2014, pigment print, varnish, polished stainless-steel frame, 21 x 16 cm".

Düsseldorf

Anna Vogel

CONRADS
Horstweg33 33
January 16–March 7, 2015

Anna Vogel’s small and highly mechanical photographs have a strange impact. The artist supplies clearly delineated forms in neutral colors that claim objectivity in terms of their coolness or inexpressiveness, yet she also achieves a great sense of significance for minor and culturally marginal images. The motorcycle helmets in Tinted Transformers I and II and Pygmalion Agents (all works 2014), for instance, are oddly ominous. Signifying the industrial reduction and concealment of human bodies, these objects nevertheless appear unique and precious, suggesting proxies for an intimacy with the body. Vogel studied under Thomas Ruff, Christopher Williams, and Andreas Gursky, and her relationship to the works of these artists is but one context for unpacking her understanding of photography, though the artist bucks her professors’ pursuits of the intimate within a view of the epic or expansive.

Most critically, Vogel’s use of the medium does not aim to reproduce a fixed sense of the reality of the visible world. For example, the untitled series of abstracted movements and the athletic figures of Neo I and II are attempts to reflect phenomena in all their fleetingness. These, among other works, are structured around isolated motifs against a color-field ground, and where she scratches or splatters the surfaces with varnish, the effect is so tightly controlled as to render any visual distinction between expressive and mechanical or unique and reproducible obsolete. With this body of work, Vogel makes a remarkable contribution to the ongoing debate about the ontological status of photography and its assured capacity to compel and seduce, revealing an ambiguity towards what the medium can tell us about the world it so often tries to define.