Michael Silver

Genovese Gallery South

“4x5=20 plus one,” Michael Silver’s exhibition of 76 platinum-and-paper prints, was inspired by the death of his friend John Cage. The exhibition title refers, in part, to the way in which the show was divided into four sections, each covering a period of about five years. These delicate black and white photographs were printed on materials ranging from rice and Japanese gampi paper to gum wrappers, foil, and papyrus. Thirty-five small-scale works, mostly arranged in groups of four, were made from contact printing images of chairs, brooms, a painted chicken, cow’s feet and portraits of Cage onto paper painted with platinum. The sushi prints, called “47 VARIATIONS ON A SHEET OF NORI SEAWEED” (all works 1992), were made from black and white photograms enhanced with Chinese cinnabar then printed on gampi paper. Influenced by Zen one-stroke painting, the series was conceived as an homage to Cage.

Silver’s clever combination of ingredients—large-scale negatives, seaweed, and platinum—results in powerful, elegantly textured works that seem to stretch beyond the picture plane. In Cow Pair, 1991, Silver transformed offal into seductive and frightening totemic images. The contact print image of two cow’s feet arranged in a plastic tub is framed against brushy layers of platinum that simulate black paint. The positioning of the feet, the shading, and the camera angle give the illusion that these are not cloven hooves but, rather, decapitated torsos of nudes which recall Joel-Peter Witkin’s female subjects.

A series of prints bearing the portrait of Cage, taken in Silver’s studio in 1989, were recently transformed into eloquent and otherworldly works. Especially beautiful is a small untitled image printed in 1992 that consists of a close-up of Cage’s head and shoulders projected onto another close-up of white eggs in their carton. Merging with four different ovoids, Cage’s face is layered, as his penetrating left eye emerges from the center of an egg. Surrounding him is a halo of Japanese monograms printed with a decorative woodblock chop and Chinese red-seal ink. The print is magical and ghostly in its reverence.

Silver also adds his red-seal ink to his sushi prints, and the simple abstract patterns of black, red, and white geometric configurations resemble woodblock printing. These unique photograms were made by coating gampi paper with light-sensitive platinum salts, cutting nori seaweed and placing it in contact with the coated paper, and then exposing it to ultraviolet light: the areas where light struck the paper became dark and the areas covered with the nori became light. The use of a bamboo brush to spread layers of platinum and the addition of red-seal ink (stamped with actual and makeshift chops) lend texture to these works on paper. Each is a meditation on the language of form, darkness, and light.

Francine Koslow Miller