New York

Florian Maier-Aichen, Halbes Bild (Half a Picture), 2014, gelatin silver print, 61 × 49 1/4".

Florian Maier-Aichen, Halbes Bild (Half a Picture), 2014, gelatin silver print, 61 × 49 1/4".

Florian Maier-Aichen

303 Gallery

Florian Maier-Aichen, Halbes Bild (Half a Picture), 2014, gelatin silver print, 61 × 49 1/4".

In the most recent phase of his ongoing exploration of the photographic medium, Florian Maier-Aichen travels simultaneously forward and backward in time, filtering the conventions of Romantic landscape painting through contemporary image-processing technology, and pursuing abstraction via physical and optical methods associated with both pre- and post-darkroom techniques and aesthetics. In his fourth solo appearance at this gallery, the German artist continued to apply his mix-and-match approach, presenting a spare installation of large prints, all, bar one, in lush, sometimes eccentric color. The show’s seven works were also linked by a concern with depth of field, the landscapes offering epic panoramas marked by a level of detail impossible to achieve without manipulation, the abstracts playing with focus to usher the viewer onto subtly shifting ground. Maier-Aichen’s advances are effective, if incremental.

To create his untitled abstract works, the artist uses a process similar to traditional cel animation, pouring acrylic paint onto rolls of paper, transferring the results to transparent film, sandwiching the film together with a painted backdrop, and shooting the whole thing on a supersize copy stand to arrive at a final image. The results are thus photographs that rely on painting, or perhaps paintings in photographic form. They’re also not the easiest things to look at: One features alternately hazy and liquid diagonal strokes and dots of black and white layered over broad, fuzzy-edged fields of red, yellow, and blue; another is centered on a splat of pure white that must have been satisfying to make and comes off as cartoonishly “expressive.” But, at this juncture, isn’t toying with faux-expressive gesture more than a little played out?

The press release defends this approach as a signifier of the operation of chance that has been “scrubbed free from current modes of clinical and forced photographic production.” It sounds good on paper, but are Maier-Aichen’s new works really as liberated as the gallery’s official line suggests? All look predictably sleek and expensive, their gestures toward the kinetic energy of the handmade all cleaned up and neatly framed. At best, the artist’s multistage mark-making gives rise to a kitschy queasiness that may be perversely appealing to some, but one wonders if we really need an ugly cousin to Wolfgang Tillmans’s refined darkroom abstractions. Even as counterpoints to Maier-Aichen’s landscape images, these works function primarily as evidence of a desire to shake things up rather than as an actual departure from current modes.

More appealing are the landscapes, perhaps because of their more focused historical and cultural references. Untitled (Andermatt) (all works cited, 2014), depicts a town in the Swiss Alps in a manner recalling that of nineteenth-century photographer Eduard Spelterini, who shot the same landscape from a hot-air balloon. Maier-Aichen’s image reveals the settlement to be almost eerily well-preserved and scenic. The shot is also one that repays close looking—hardly as flawless as a first glance might suggest, the work’s natural greens and russets break down here and there into washed-out aqua and magenta as the camera’s limitations become clear. 100-Mile photograph images a vast swath of Los Angeles with an uncanny consistency that transforms the city into a map of itself—mountains, buildings, and highways are all rendered with near-equal clarity, an unobservable simulacrum possible only through computer intervention.

Maier-Aichen’s exhibition was primarily, then, an exercise in the competent application of established strategies. But one work at least pointed in a less predictable direction: As its title suggests, Halbes Bild (Half a Picture) combines elements of the show’s two foci, pairing an aerial view of a coastline with a moonlike painted splotch of milky white that drips from the composition’s top-right corner. The messiest fusion here, it’s all the better for it.

Michael Wilson