New York

Albrecht Fuchs

Albrecht Fuchs often works as a commercial (editorial) photographer, a capacity in which he is valued for his deadpan but meticulously lit and tightly composed images. In “Portraits,” Fuchs, who is based in Cologne, presented thirty-seven color photographs shot between 1995 and 2007. The exhibition coincided with the release of his eponymous monograph, but while the book contains a selection of figures, mostly recognizable (Iggy Pop), though at times less so (industrial designer Dieter Rams), the exhibition included only portraits of contemporary artists—and of those, only the most established (Luc Tuymans, Raymond Pettibon, Jonathan Meese) rather than either of the equally compelling images of younger artists Annette Kelm and Bethany Izard that made it into print.

In the wake of artists such as Martin Kippenberger, who relied more on his persona than his hands to craft meaning in his painting (an impulse often associated with the Cologne scene of the ’80s and ’90s), it is difficult to look at any exhibition of artists’ portraits as a run-of-the-mill display, rather than as a reflexive interrogation of the notion of the artist as performer. But in spite of the fact that the show featured several portraits of Kippenberger himself, and that the remaining shots also depicted “known” artists, when actually viewing the photographs such issues felt outside the frame or just beside the point. Fuchs’s work is straightforward studio photography and follows the genre’s historical project of capturing likeness; there is no discernible irony on display.

In response to Joseph Beuys’s dictum “Every person is an artist,” Kippenberger is said to have remarked, “Yes, but every artist is also a person,” and it is perhaps in this spirit that “Portraits” is best approached. Paul McCarthy, modestly dressed in black corduroy, is shown seated on a weathered brocade couch before a wall of white-framed windows—no ketchup or elves in sight. Seth Price, his hands in the front pockets of his jeans, leans casually against a footbridge. The settings and compositions are typical of Fuchs, who engenders a presence of naturalistic and unassuming intimacy in those who sit for his camera. Shot in backyards, living rooms, and hallways, during installation, and in the studio, Fuchs’s subjects typically appear in unremarkable environs.

Further, unlike, say, Hans Namuth, who represented the artist-genius in action in the studio, or the young Stephen Shore, picturing the denizens of Warhol’s Factory, Fuchs seldom makes the work of his subjects visible in the frame. This is not to say that subjective meaning cannot be read into his compositions. Take the portrait of Christopher Williams (whose photographs Fuchs sometimes takes). The contrast between exterior and interior is as frank as Williams’s photographs of camera lenses floating on seamless backdrop paper. Suspended in the doorway of his LA residence, chrome tote in hand, Williams appears as if standing at the aperture to some kind of domestic camera obscura.

The force of Fuchs’s portraits is contingent largely on his ability to frame and to place his subjects—perhaps of note, considering how many of his subjects (Lawrence Weiner, Christopher Wool, John Baldessari, Georg Herold) make work in which “the frame” is fundamentally distorted or displaced. Fuchs’s work is compelling on the level of the image; his subjects are shown as people rather than personas. Disengaged as Fuchs is from the obligation to subvert the institutional structures through which his work is administered, his portraits feel almost radical.

Caroline Busta