New York

Georges Rousse

Farideh Cadot Gallery

Georges Rousse photographs abandoned buildings—either the outsides or, more commonly, the empty interiors—shortly before the buildings are to be torn down, after first altering these derelict spaces in some way. In one untitled work from 1985, for example, he painted an illusionistic rendering of a squared-off spiral across the corner of a room before photographing it; in another untitled work, this one from 1982, he painted a series of human figures along the wall of a staircase, as if they were the ghosts of all the people who had climbed those stairs in the building’s lifetime. Depending on the precise accent of these interventions—whether they involve imposing an illusionistic form on the scene or recalling the human presence in it—these images are related to earlier work by such artists as Jan Dibbets, Justen Ladda, John Divola, and John Pfahl.

In the works shown here, Rousse painted the rooms or structures a deep, blood red, giving them the quality of sacred sites. (Most of these pictures are from the “Embrasure” series, 1987, and depict the interior spaces of derelict buildings.) The ritualistic overtones of these spaces are heightened by the golden light that spills into each interior, through empty window frames or cracks in the walls themselves; in some cases, Rousse has even burnished the painted walls with polished beeswax in order to deepen the glow of the sunlight that flows across them. In two pieces, Rousse’s intervention includes writing fragments of poetic phrases across the floor of the space or around the tops of the walls. “DU VAGABOND. L’APPRENTISSAGE” (Of the vagabond. The apprenticeship) reads the inscription along the frieze of a room in Embrasure III, 1987; seen in a slanting beam of light from the ceiling, this circular room suggests the most famous of all ancient temples, the Pantheon. The form of the inscription strengthens this allusion, but the words themselves are steeped in romanticism. In fact, Rousse’s sites, with their implied quality as magical sites, partake in the familiar romantic fascination with ancient or non-Western cultures.

Like Gordon Matta-Clark’s urban earthworks, Rousse’s interventions are performances that frame the spaces, removing them from their familiar, functional contexts and denying their heavy physical presence. As with earthworks, the actual spaces Rousse photographs are inaccessible to us; now that the buildings have been torn down, only the photographs remain to allow us to experience the dramas staged in them. Accordingly, Rousse gives the photographs themselves a strong sexual presence, printing the image large, the red of the scenes intensified by the Cibachrome process he uses.

Rousse’s interventions differ significantly from those of earlier artists, though. Where Matta-Clark, for example, would radically alter the buildings he worked on—sawing them in half, say, or cutting out geometric sections from them—in a formal rupture of the structure’s physical form and its meaning, Rousse’s interventions are more subdued, recalling the rooms as memory spaces, theaters for everyday dramas that have now been moved elsewhere. In themselves, the buildings in which he works are unexceptional, but in transforming them as he does Rousse underscores their significance in the lives of the people who passed through them. By uncovering the spiritual dimension of these commonplace structures in this way—while avoiding the easy trap of bathos—Rousse emphasizes the sense of loss, of yearning for the past, that runs through much recent art.

Charles Hagen