Critics’ Picks

Julia Hechtman, Broken, 2009, color photograph, 30 x 38".

Julia Hechtman, Broken, 2009, color photograph, 30 x 38".

Chicago

Julia Hechtman

Devening Projects
3039 W Carroll Ave
August 30–October 10, 2009

Six photographs that depict peculiar landscapes scrupulously unite Julia Hechtman’s recent conceptual undertakings. As an artist known for her wide-reaching exploration into routine forms of irony, Hechtman has integrated a focused exercise into her new works that elegantly contorts the landscape genre and corrupts its romantic traditions. Her recent residencies in Australia and Iceland provide the rationale for this shift in subject matter. However, the artist’s sagacious mettle, as evinced in previous investigations, undercuts these weird scenic views.

The horizon line, a basic pictorial feature in landscapes, is missing from all six images. Pointing the lens upward, through tree trunks and branches, Hechtman destabilizes her works and provides no ground line or horizontal plane on which to locate the vertical thrusts of the varied hardwoods she photographs. True to her interest in contradiction, several of the prints include a single incongruity. For example, Vines, 2009, depicts ropey climbing plants meandering among tall, skyward-reaching trunks, while Broken, 2009, captures a large, fractured tree held up by surrounding growth.

The Vanishing, 2008, is a fifty-six-second video located in the gallery’s Off Space, down the hall from the main gallery. This work sports a single tree in an unnaturally flat and barren landscape, and here Hechtman includes a narrow horizon line. Over the course of the video, the tree disappears, as if erased by an invisible hand. Evoking Jennifer Steinkamp’s animation Mike Kelley, 2007, and the ironic mysticism that has pulsed through previous bodies of Hechtman’s work, this piece, unlike the strange and debased pictures of the natural world in the main gallery, is familiar, even predictable.