Critics’ Picks

Taryn Simon, Kalandia Checkpoint, Between Ramallah and Jerusalem, 2007, color photograph, 48 x 61 1/2”.

Berlin

“Rethinking Location”

Sprüth Magers | Berlin
Oranienburger Straße 18
May 1 - June 19

Where—as opposed to why, what, how, or even who—is usually the easiest fact to establish when constructing a narrative, which makes the challenge that the twelve artists in “Rethinking Location” take on so impressive. As they strive to problematize space and disrupt the assumptions aroused by a quick scan of one’s surroundings, some of their stark, understated imagery is too visually slight, or seems to lack any explanation of its context or creator’s intentions. But much of the art makes us pause to ask why by questioning the notion of where.

The strongest works in the show present the pure, uncomplicated beauty of troubling or troubled places, such as Taryn Simon’s crisply vacant photographs of historically loaded sites like Fidel Castro’s palace and a checkpoint in the West Bank. Cyprien Gaillard’s series “Fields of Rest,” 2010, is the most pared-down, direct, and disorienting work. The overgrown industrial ruins in his snapshot-size color photographs turn out to be neglected World War II bunkers on the Normandy coast. Gaillard shoots the structures with a tilted camera and embeds each of the resulting skewed scenes in five layers of mat board that lend them a tidy, chic, graphic frame, placing actual, rough history in a cool, sanitized, and decorative framework. Gaillard’s work situates freighted architecture in a safe and clean context, like a footnote to an academic history text.

While we ponder location, Trevor Paglen’s large-scale photographs mapping 189 US military secret-intelligence satellites draw attention to the things that know where we are. Given Paglen’s position in UC Berkeley’s geography department, his images of the star-filled sky carry the weight of authority, but they are also disarmingly beautiful—making the fact that these constructed, twinkling lights watch over us seem almost comforting and divine.