New York

Krzysztof Wodiczko

Hal Bromm Gallery

The dialectical forces of stasis and change, continuity and abrupt transformation have formed all cities throughout history, but in the contemporary city the proportion of stability to change has become inverted. The solid, fixed imagery of the physical city has yielded in the late 20th century to conditions that are more mercurial—neither solid nor fluid. Krzysztof Wodiczko, through his aggressive yet ephemeral interventions, seeks to clarify and disrupt architecture’s role in the evolution of the urban environment. Since the late ’70s Wodiczko has been pursuing this goal by staging theatrical projections of photographic images onto buildings, monuments, and, as in this installation, interior walls.

Here five of Wodiczko’s public projections from 1985 and 1986 were represented by a series of large color photographs and back-lighted transparencies. For the Venice Biennale in 1986, he projected a tripartite collage of a 35mm camera, a gun belt with a grenade, and a large tank onto the base of the campanile in the Piazza San Marco, the city’s most famous tourist attraction. With this simple intervention, Wodiczko underscored tourism’s true nature—not simply a benign force that boosts a city’s economy, but more like a full-scale invasion, causing displacement, disruption, and the transfiguration of a city’s public spaces and its citizens’ habits. For his projection at the Allegheny County Soldiers’ Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh, also in 1986, he cast a pair of skeletal hands on an accordion keyboard, one on either side of the entrance to this beaux-arts building. The images, at once frightening and full of gallows humor, underscored the silent stoicism of the actual memorial, which, like all memorials, is as much about forgetting as remembering.

In the back room of the gallery, Wodiczko did an installation called The Real Estate Project, 1987. With four projectors and slides, he projected photographic images of windows (complete with exterior views) onto the blank white walls, simulating the spanking clean anonymity of a newly renovated apartment. These phantom windows, trimmed with expensive vertical blinds, look out to a decrepit, rubble-strewn landscape. On one sill rests a pair of binoculars, a copy of Manhattan Living, and a guide to real estate for brokers and owners. These are the instruments that site and fix the next target of piecemeal but inevitable gentrification. In contrast to his public projects, The Real Estate Project produced a marvelous sense of intimacy and a juxtaposition of image with spatial illusion that is not possible in most public spectacles. Moreover, this evocation of what has been occurring on the Lower East Side was set in precisely the kind of building that developers—and art galleries—look for. The irony was palpable.

Wodiczko’s projections have the power of great film; the residual influence lasts well beyond the viewing experience. What he does, which film normally does not, is overlay his oppositional, provocative symbols over an existing iconographic condition created by architecture. Architectural symbolism is often inadvertently powerful because it is subtle, frequently misunderstood, and seldom challenged. It is also chameleonlike, taking on other characteristics to fit climatic shifts. By projecting onto the hard surfaces of buildings and monuments, Wodiczko reveals the many faces of meaning in the architecture of the city, confirming that our most solid, enduring artifacts are also our most vulnerable and insidious.

Patricia C. Phillips