Viktoria Binschtok

It looked as if the gallery had closed up shop. Had the end come for one of the pioneers of Brunnenstrasse, home to Berlin’s youngest galleries? All the other white cubes were brightly lit, but Klemm’s had blacked-out windows. The space looked abandoned. But the door was not locked. Inside, Viktoria Binschtok showed mostly light-gray photographic images that gleamed under spotlights strong enough to blind anyone emerging from the dismal Berlin winter: One can recognize only outlines in these pictures, which look abstract, like Minimalist paintings—gray striations on gray backgrounds. Only gradually do details appear: a hand waving, the silhouette of a limousine, a head, a broad back. Binschtok, who was born in Moscow in 1972 and moved with her family to West Germany in 1980, used a news video from the Internet as the source for these enlarged frames in which so little can be seen; paparazzi flashbulbs have drowned out everything else. But soon a scenario becomes clear: A couple walks down the stairs, past bodyguards, through an open door into a car, waving and driving off. The images combine to show a slice of celebrity life.

Binschtok’s works are an antidote to our daily information overload. They produce a sort of empathy in the viewer, who is put in the place of the stars, blinded by the bright lights just like the figures standing on the red carpet. (Now we understand why they wear sunglasses at night.) The title of the show, “Spectacle,” evokes Guy Debord, and now, on the fortieth anniversary of May ’68, his claim that society consists exclusively of PR, advertising, and propaganda seems more valid than ever. For Debord, the star was living vicariously for the masses, who could follow along by means of images. He writes of the link between money, power, and pictures: “The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point that it becomes images.” Especially in the art world, one might add.

Binschtok has been tracking the circuits of global capital for a while. In her photographs of Louis Vuitton logos on the streets of New York (“LVNY,” 2005), for instance, fakes and originals become indistinguishable. The question remains whether the pictures in her “Flash” series (all works 2008) are showing us the climax of the spectacle or its end—after all, the concentrated attention of the camera is destroying the images’ actual content. But the celebrity-obsessed viewer will be able to just barely make out the back of Tom Cruise’s head, Katie Holmes’s silhouette, and the logo of the restaurant next to their favorite Italian place in Mitte. Binschtok’s pictures are by-products of the tabloid reports on the filming of Valkyrie in Berlin, a movie about the would-be assassin of Hitler, Count von Stauffenberg (played by Cruise). A final point of escape from spectacle appears in a triptych, The Big Media Interest, three properly lit photographs showing us the crowd of photographers at the Berlin Film Festival. The paparazzi themselves, seen from behind and blocking our view of the subjects of their interest, remain anonymous.

Daniel Boese