New York

Imants Tillers

Bess Cutler Gallery

The notion that esthetics follow geography has always lodged uneasily in the critical mind, but it finds its latest expression in recent Australian art. As the proverbial “Down Under,” Australia suffers from its physical isolation; it is discussed—and vocally discusses itself—in terms of its distance, and thus detachment, from Western culture. However, by a near reversal, this situation is being altered, as much Australian art, and many Australian artists, are now appearing in America and Europe.

Central among them is Imants Tillers, whose paintings are textbook illustrations of Walter Benjamin’s signal comments on reproduction. Images known to Tillers from reproductions swarm throughout his canvases, testifying to an esthetic indoctrination possible only through the medium of print. Appropriations from David Salle, Sigmar Polke, Giorgio de Chirico, Edvard Munch, and Pierre Bonnard, to list only a few, commingle image and source, pointing to the thick and ahistorical swamp of references that defines the contemporary mind. The rhetoric of distance is accentuated by the canvas-board squares, all numbered and all identical in dimension, that comprise the gridded surfaces of Tillers’ paintings. Furthermore, expression’s imposture is figured through fingerprinted marks, wildly disposed in agitated rhythms, that parody acts of the hand. But what is not evident from Tillers’ work is how this carnival of eclectic styles, detached and pointedly impersonal, does other than merely affirm an already entrenched position.

The artist, however, is a writer whose published texts skillfully locate the Australian situation with echoing theoretical references. For him, the secondhand image is not a liability, but rather an artistic advantage: “We have been protected from originals—from their aura, their surface and their authority,” Tillers writes in a recent issue of Express: “ . . . the dot-screen of mechanical reproduction has rendered all images equivalent, interchangeable, scaleless and surfaceless; for the Australian artist it has made art in this reproduced form the perfect material for bricolage.” All of which is fine, “correct,” and probably an accurate (though tired) assessment of a contemporary mood. But what remains to be seen is what Tillers can actually do with such cultural and theoretical bric-a-brac.

Kate Linker