New York

Adam Füss

Massimo Audiello

Adam Füss’ photograms are closer in spirit to those of László Moholy-Nagy—with their Constructivist, scientific overtones—than to the kinkier, psychosexual ones produced by Man Ray. They also recall the organic process art of the ’60s and ’70s, continued today by Meg Webster and others, which attempts to record the effects of various natural systems. For one group of pictures here (the majority of the works are Untitled, 1988), Füss suspended a flashlightlike pendulum above a sheet of photographic paper. The images record the egg-shaped paths traced by the light as it gradually swung to a stop.

Not that Füss’ interest is in process, pure and simple: in each work, he accentuates the pictorial qualities of the image in various ways. In that same flashlight/pendulum series, he repeatedly exposed each piece of paper to a dangling light source, producing a single form made up of a series of loopy, interconnected ovals; the pieces begin to suggest the blobby images in Carroll Dunham’s recent paintings. In other works here, Füss repeatedly exposed photographic paper that was still in the developer bath to a blitz of light from a flash unit, creating a record of various water effects, such as splashes and bubbles; in still other pieces, he exposed the paper through powder strewn across its surface before developing it. In each case, the resulting picture is ambiguous, looking at first as though it could be a camera image, perhaps the kind of strobe photograph made famous by Harold Edgerton. Only on closer examination do you realize it’s a photogram.

This dual reading of the image raises the question of just what the differences are between images produced with a lens and the seemingly more primal, tactile images of the photogram, which are based purely on the chemistry of the photosensitive materials. But Füss undercuts the mystery of this question by making each image resolutely pictorial. The real reference for his pictures seems to be abstract painting, not natural processes. These are arty images—the splashes have the careful casualness of Gerhard Richter’s ironic abstractions; the bubbles, the knowing references to Surrealism of Peter Nagy. In short, these too canny pictures seem to be about the current art scene, with its games of historical positioning and ironic allusions to style, rather than attempts to form a conception of the world, using photography as an investigative tool. What linked the photograms of Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray was their common sense of discovery, their belief that they could achieve a new vision—whether of the formal underpinnings of reality, or of the webs of desire in the human psyche. The loss of that shared sense of purpose—a loss that these pictures seem to reflect—is a sad one.

Charles Hagen