Peter Zimmermann

Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin

It might not be easy to see past the highly reflective surfaces of the works in Peter Zimmermann’s recent show “Reliance,” but when you do, you are pulled in by the layers and layers of color and light trapped in hardened pools of epoxy resin, each tinged by the strata above and below. Zimmermann’s paintings are stunning—and yet they look hideous in reproduction.

Rare, of course, is the painter who fails to claim that his paintings don’t photograph well; it would be a sign of bad painting if something weren’t lost in the process. But in Zimmermann’s case, the gap between what can be painted and what can be photographed is not about painterly ego; rather, it points up the work’s subject. The sources for his paintings have shifted from book covers in the ’80s to reproductions of his own earlier work in the late ’90s, and now, increasingly, to found images from the Internet, the modern-day wellspring of pictures. As he did with pictures of his own work, he applies various readymade Photoshop filters to the found files until they become abstract compositions. These serve as a template for layers of resin mixed with pigment, poured or brushed onto a canvas laid horizontally, with the resin ironing out irregularities as it sets.

To document such works, normally one would carefully light them to minimize reflection. However, reproductions of Zimmermann’s paintings thus obtained are blandly flat—remarkably like computer-manipulated image files. Otherwise, the camera picks out the reflections and hot spots of white, making the work look like ketchup and conjuring up the cheesy highlights of 2-D and 3-D imaging software (see Zimmermann’s latest book, Epoxology [2006], which features details of his paintings and a selection of source files, recalling Gerhard Richter’s Atlas). And his subtle but distinct gradations of color go all blurry in reproduction, as if subjected to a bad watercolor filter. In sum, photography uncannily reveals the foundation of this work: lowly, ugly image files.

This exhibition played its cards close to its chest. It is hard to see what brought together this mixed bag of amorphous forms and tight grids: a monumental diptych with layers of blue, largely covered by two puddles of black; a huge, predominantly flesh-toned piece; two medium-size vibrant red grounds with magnified halftone dots; an unsteady De Stijl composition; a dozen small black and lavender paintings; a purplish-brown floor piece in eight tiles, bearing elongated squiggly imprints that partially reveal their white ceramic support. The disparate list goes on and their titles, such as Diamonds, Soda, or S.A.V. (all works 2006), could not be further removed from what we behold.

For all their beauty, there is something startlingly forgettable about these works. They act like stand-ins, words on the tip of your tongue that will never be recalled. In effect, Zimmermann, through his digital process, churns out surrogate compositions for abstract painting today, not entirely unlike Allan McCollum’s “Plaster Surrogates,” “Glossies,” and “Perpetual Photos” of the ’80s. Antithetically, his resin process appears to turn base picture files into painter’s gold. Its true ingenuity, however, lies in providing a tangible equivalent for the way computer programs simulate materiality. With no need for artifice, Zimmermann works out this materiality from the photograph to the canvas and back again.

Jian-Xing Too