Los Angeles

Adam Fuss

Thomas Solomon’s Garage

Using the direct printing method of the photogram, Adam Fuss has produced a body of visually exquisite and theoretically inquisitive images. In the ’20s, Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy viewed the photogram as a means of subverting the mechanicity of photography because it provided a means of creating a photograph without the technological eye of the camera: Fuss exploits it more for its capacity to estheticize, to transform objects and substances into ghostly and ephemeral silhouettes of the “real.”

At first glance, it is the tightly orchestrated formal elegance of these photograms rather than their ambiguous subject matter that is compelling. What appear to be large-scale black and white topographic images of silvery-iridescent desert terrain turn out to be instantaneous pictures of liquid in motion, produced by throwing buckets of water onto the photosensitive surfaces of paper and exposing them in a flash of light. Rendered in rich Cibachrome color, a series of flower pictures in the mode of Robert Mapplethorpe or Edward Weston is frankly picturesque. But here the classic profiles of water- and calla-lilies, decaying roots and all, are made eerily fragile and translucent: the organic is frozen into delicate, calligraphic messages of a sublimity that always threatens to slip into the horrible, into rot and putrescence.

A third series of large-scale and technicolor photographs evokes gestural abstract painting—in particular the luridly-colored action paintings of Sam Francis. These images cleverly tread the line between the heroic pyrotechnics of action painting and the maudlin hues of kitsch. The thick and taut skeins of mottled, almost neon color in these prints are knottier and more controlled than those in Francis’ pseudo-spontaneous paintings, their edges clearly differentiated from the photographically-flat ground. Hanging as a counterpoint to the faux-Francis images, one large picture consists of the recognizable profiles of two rabbit bodies. “How cute!” one is tempted to exclaim, before noticing that the twisted ropes of psychedelic color are linked to dark patches of matted hair along the rabbits’ flattened bellies. The facetiously gestural strokes of color are actually bloody rabbit guts, violently torn from eviscerated stomachs of (one hopes) already dead animals and spewed across the photographic paper. It’s intriguing, finally, that innards produce such a dramatic array of colors in the Cibachrome spectrum—from deep-purple (impacted excrement?) to yellow and fuchsia.

In Fuss’ photograms, organic substances seem to have imprinted themselves indexically upon the photographic paper as if in a moment of self-fashioning. But the sleek and hard surfaces of the images expose the photographer’s manipulative role, reifying the fluid and living via a disengaged formalism. Man Ray used the photogram to make the everyday “surreal”; Fuss forces it both to work in the service of a compulsively estheticizing eye and hand, and to point to the impossibility, finally, of photography offering anything but absence and death. Just as Man Ray could be said to have reinforced his own authority, veiling his meticulous arrangement of reality by inscribing it onto paper via the apparently spontaneous process of making a photogram, Fuss rigorously asserts his view of things. Suspended in the photographic image—which promises to sustain them beyond death, yet sever their connection with life—these frozen body parts, plants, and splashes of water continually lead back to the artist as the transformative force of the “real,” that person who is able to fix in a “decisive moment” the truest, and most beautiful, aspect of the thing itself.

Amelia Jones