New York

Max Kozloff

Holly Solomon Gallery

There are many things going on, and many things to be said about Max Kozloff’s photographs. This is both an asset and a problem. Obviously possessed of a lively intelligence, Kozloff packs every detail in every image with meaning; I’m sure he knows exactly what he’s doing, even if I don’t. The consequence of this thoroughness is that he does all the work for the viewer.

A typical Kozlovian image reads as follows: a display of both carefully arranged and chaotic shelves of gold and silver objects which reflect light; the window in front of the display which reflects the scene across the street; trees which move in the wind, mounds of snow in the gutter; small mirrors reflecting bicycle chains which lock together bars which encase the window; on top of all this, there will be a reflection of the photographer taking the photograph. These are dense, involuted images which take absolutely nothing for granted; everything had better be explainable. At a certain point, the details overwhelm the basic thrust of what’s going on, and things get confused.

Most ambitious artists are self-conscious on their first time out. But whereas most limit themselves to a little and squeeze a lot out of it, Kozloff tries to do everything with everything. It’s laudable but tiring. The images frequently depict a very narrow, flat space, but with constant obstruction and reflection. Kozloff goes slumming on the Lower East Side and mixes it with photography/art historical puns from Atget to Groover.

Color continually mediates between the artful and the distasteful—pink and yellow and lime green with copper, gold and silver with brown, beige and off-whites. Photo-Realism is evoked with the emphasis on spatial ambiguity and consumer goods. Even the ambiguous attitudes of the Photo-Realists are present: how are we to take the sharp differences between the uptown posh shots and the downtown kitsch, especially considering that they are perceived in the same terms—a kind of visual virtuosity that won’t quit?

Kozloff won’t let one millimeter breathe. He rarely lets objects be eloquent in themselves; he doesn’t seem to trust them. The best he can do with a rack of polyester clothes is to reduce them to formal elements. Green tags taped randomly onto a window “unify” the field of chaotic reflections and consumer goods in an outright painterly way. When Kozloff is “simple” it’s impossible to know what’s intended: a New Mexican townscape with its faded pinks and yellows composes itself into an attenuated Stephen Shore formalism.

From this point of view, then, it is entirely clear why the best photographs give us just a few things, honestly, and permit them their uniqueness. Two images in particular ring true. One shows an ivory tiled elephant in a very precious setting, with an Indian cloth behind it. The cloth has pink lotuses and green leaves printed across its length in rows. The dust (a device used as a metaphor for “obstruction” everywhere else) softens the color through the glass window without canceling out the subtle dissonance of green and pink in close proximity. Another image quietly divides in half by various architectural elements in gray tones and a cast shadow from a lamppost nearby. The subject is nothing more than a window half covered with a fabric which is faded around the edges where the sun has not bleached out its pinkness. The photograph captures the real experience of walking along the streets of Lower Manhattan. Whereas Kozloff can usually be counted on frantically to point to urban disorder around every corner, there are times when he seems to calm down and concentrate on things visually without manipulating them.

Jeff Perrone