New York

Carl Toth

Pace/MacGill Gallery

For an established American photographer to use color and black-and-white Xeroxes immediately begs notice. Carl Toth’s new still life assemblages constitute a fascinating critical discourse on the esthetics of contemporary photographic vision. Unlike most artists interested in the pictorial potential of Xerox, he chooses to explore its ability to duplicate rather than to distort. Toth’s approach to Xerox is blatantly photographic; in a recent text, he described the Xerox machine as “a special kind of high technology camera.” He Xeroxes objects—ranging from camera parts to hardware items—by placing them directly on the screen of the copier. Often, he alters both the scale and the tone of the copies. Then he cuts out the Xeroxed images of the objects and assembles them on 16 1/2-by-25 1/2-inch backgrounds.

The compositions that result are as riveting to think about as they are attractive to look at. In the examples in this exhibition, the relationship of image to object is presented as open and dynamic: images of real objects are made to represent imaginary objects so convincingly that these, in turn, seem real. Should you believe your mind or your eye? In Untitled, 1982, this question prevails. In this work’s dominant motif, assorted bladelike forms fan out from a central pivot and are supported on a metal-topped wood base. Although you know you’ve never seen an object quite like this, it’s so disturbingly real that you come to believe in its existence as something with mass and volume, capable of being touched. The image’s startling graphic specificity serves to palpably flesh out the object and to spark its emotive presence by encouraging the viewer to read every detail, to follow the contours, and to feel the sharpness of the edges and the points of the separate blades. An empathic response to crisp detail and to the precise description of texture is endemic to photographic vision—to the simultaneously visual and visceral way the photographically based media want us to see and feel these days. At the same time, Toth provides an oddly metaphysical context for this bladed object. Behind it, a white screen appears about to tip over, and to its left—on a similar base—a clock’s enigmatic face is being pulled apart by unseen hands. These objects stand before a background of tonal space in which blued top and bottom edges fade to white at the center. This context imparts a pleasing poetic dimension to the individual objects and to the composition as a whole.

Ronny Cohen