Critics’ Picks

Ben Ruggiero, Untitled (Willing Exposure as Gesture), 2010, cyanotype, 19 x 24”.

Austin

Ben Ruggiero

testsite
502 West 33rd Street
June 6–July 11, 2010

The legacy of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church haunts Ben Ruggiero’s latest exhibition of experiments in photography. A picture in the entryway of this show depicts an orientation room at Olana, Church’s home on the Hudson. Plastic chairs are neatly lined up, facing a flat-screen TV that is placed in front of a pull-down projection screen. A defunct projector hangs from the ceiling. Paused on the TV is an image of Church’s majestic landscape painting The Icebergs, 1861, which was lost for over a century before being rediscovered in 1979. The technological apparatuses of projector, TV monitor, and screen introduce Ruggiero’s project of examining technology and the sublime––and of probing the material relationship between painting and photography.

The title of the exhibition, “After Icebergs with a Painter,” references a text Church and his friend Louis Legrand Noble penned during their 1859 voyage to Newfoundland. Ruggiero plays on the mythology of exploration here by presenting a series of photographs and cyanotypes showing a single piece of pointed glass that was found in an empty parking lot in Austin. The glass morphs from each rendering to the next as it moves from the outside world to the studio, from resembling a mountainous landscape to seeming like a ghostly apparition. Ruggiero comes closest to achieving the gesture of the brushstroke in the cyanotype Untitled (Willing Exposure as Gesture), 2010. The blue of the paper contrasts with the white striations of the broken glass, exposing the inflection of touch inherent to the processing of any photograph. Placed side by side, the cyanotypes and the photographs ask viewers to consider the history of romanticism and the mechanics of the photographic image.