New York

Daniel Bauer, Maison des Oiseaux, 2010, color photograph, 30 x 24".

Daniel Bauer, Maison des Oiseaux, 2010, color photograph, 30 x 24".

Daniel Bauer

Andrea Meislin Gallery

Daniel Bauer, Maison des Oiseaux, 2010, color photograph, 30 x 24".

The subject matter of Daniel Bauer’s “Νεφελοκοκκυγία” (Cloudcuckooland)—the inevitable erosion of utopian modernism’s high ideals by the vagaries of everyday life—is overfamiliar to the point of nostalgia. Wasn’t this the theme du jour a decade ago? Or has it achieved a kind of evergreen status, become a standard tune to break into when all else fails? Bauer’s exhibition—his second at this gallery—was altogether too polite to make even this question feel urgent. But subject matter, after all, isn’t everything, and the nine photographs and single video featured are sufficiently magnetic in form and atmosphere to just about rescue the enterprise. Though certain iconic structures crop up with numbing predictability, the manner of their depiction gives the project, if not exactly a fresh spin, at least a momentarily revitalized force.

Perhaps the most striking works in the show were several shots taken in Jerusalem. The photograph Maison des Oiseaux (Bird House; all works cited, 2010) shows a housing complex designed by Zvi Hecker on the outskirts of the city, in which a concrete honeycomb of apartments, modeled after (what else but) Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, has been subject to gradual customization by its residents and erosion by nature. In the artist’s richly detailed image, this cluster of prefab cells, originally a purist gray and white, is dotted with primary-colored plastic chairs and draped with fading laundry. At street level, a series of boxy add-ons with the temerity to deviate from the structure’s original plan is garnished with trashed bikes and abandoned shopping carts, while a scrubby patch of greenery and a lone tree make their own humble inroads.

Bauer revisits the same location after dark for Nocturnal Gimcrackery. In this photo, the building takes on an Escheresque appearance of nightmarish complexity, while a single window illuminated by a television’s pale blue glow suggests a kind of private rebellion or retreat. In Nuage de Bâton (Concrete Cloud), another project by the same architect appears in a ratty black-and-white print hanging in a stairwell at the Israel Defense Forces training school. The embedded image depicts a synagogue designed in the same style as the apartment building, its futuristic, crystalline profile contrasting with the battered handrail and exposed wiring visible in Bauer’s shot. As ever, the intimation is of a vision of the future that became a curiosity, an admired but ultimately anomalous creation in a world committed to a more conventional path.

Opacity and Transparency, an eighteen-minute video shown on a monitor that, in this awkwardly installed show, faced the gallery’s front door, also images the paradigm of a dream gone sour. This time, Bauer focuses on an icon of art (as opposed to architecture), depicting a group of Warhol’s Silver Clouds as they drift around a room and get stuck against a fan, prompting a hasty rescue attempt that leaves one of them in tatters. A second act shows the bulbous forms bumping mothlike against a strip light, with the dark reflections of trees in a window and the muffled sounds of cicadas and distant fireworks providing a brooding counterpoint to the objects’ inherent glitz.

And in spite of the pervasive been-there-done-that aura, I did learn something from Bauer’s show: Its title, “Cloudcuckooland,” was an invention of Aristophanes, who described the hypothetical non-place in his comedy The Birds. And though it is unlikely that the classical Greek playwright would have characterized it, as the gallery does, in terms of positing “a liminal space of critique, escape and resistance,” it is not difficult to imagine him being pleased by the stage-set-like clarity of Bauer’s best works. He might also have appreciated that the artist presents his vision as ultimately—the imperfections it records notwithstanding—an optimistic one.

Michael Wilson