New York

David Deutsch

Gorney Bravin + Lee

David Deutsch made his mark in the early ’80s as a painter of contemporary pastorals. In these delicately rendered arcadias, he included objects like radio towers and satellite dishes—signs of modern telecommunications that served as subtle reminders of our post-Edenic state. About a decade later, he began to base his landscapes on photographs taken from airplanes. The addition of aerial perspective introduced a new level of complexity into Deutsch’s nature/culture debate: The intrusion of technology was no longer just the subject of his art but had become one of its structuring principles.

In his latest show, Deutsch built on this earlier opposition, refining its terms and amplifying its psychological impact. The varied structures that once populated his canvases have given way to a particular architectural type: the single-family suburban home. Nestled amid dense foliage or presiding over manicured lawns and seen from a much closer (although still distinctly aerial) vantage, these houses are more iconic and anthropomorphic than the buildings in his previous works. Like the dwellings painted by Edward Hopper, Deutsch’s suburban abodes are metaphors for the way that, in modern society, autonomy tends to slide into isolation and voyeurism increasingly usurps more meaningful forms of human contact. But Deutsch’s realism derives not from the observation of life (as Hopper’s did) but from the imitation of a photographic image. In this respect Deutsch’s paintings point to a very different predecessor: Gerhard Richter. Richter’s influence is especially prominent in Burgundy and Red Tudor (both 2000), in which Deutsch employs dragged and feathered brushstrokes to simulate photography’s blurred registration of movement (one of Richter’s signature techniques, which he developed in the early ’60s). Deutsch, however, lacks that particular blend of technical virtuosity and emotional repression that Hopper and Richter can oddly be said to share. As a result, while resembling theirs, Deutsch’s paintings pale in comparison.

His photographs, though, are another matter. Initially used as source material and more recently conceived as independent works, they also take domestic architecture as their subject. But in this case, Deutsch’s penchant for opposites (nature and culture, painting and photography, etc.) generates a project as compelling as it is original. Skimming through the nighttime skies in a helicopter equipped with a police searchlight, the artist stalks the single-family home like a big-game hunter. The resulting black-and-white photographs arc an unlikely amalgam of the narrative and the taxonomic. The harsh beams of light that abruptly pierce the surrounding blackness give the images a distinctly noirish feel and hint at sinister goings-on behind the suburban walls. But in the absence of a discernible story, what the searchlight reveals above all is the generic quality of these buildings, which can be found in every American suburb. This typological aspect, latent in all Deutsch’s photographs, is made manifest by the presentation strategy of his untitled smaller images, 1999–2000, which hung in the gallery’s back room in floor-to-ceiling grids. Strangely, it is with these works, in which he comes most fully into his own, that Deutsch appears closest to Hopper—an artist who succinctly nails the uneasy mix of lurid fascination and utter banality that characterizes modem desire.

Margaret Sundell