New York

Tim Maul, London Hotel, 1989, C-print, 23 1⁄4 × 15".

Tim Maul, London Hotel, 1989, C-print, 23 1⁄4 × 15".

Tim Maul

Similar in age to the younger members of the Pictures generation, Tim Maul practices a form of photography that reflects something of the group’s aesthetic of suspicion, along with an adherence to a legacy of “art” (Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol) rather than “photography” (Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson). And yet I can’t help thinking that, just as Russian literature came, according to Dostoevsky, out of Gogol’s overcoat, Maul’s sense of photography fell from William Eggleston’s red ceiling.

Maul finds his subjects in places more than in things, and in things more than in people, as the title of his survey “When Walls Become Pictures”—comprising forty works made between 1974 and 2011—might suggest. In fact, human figures appeared in the show only in photographs within the artist’s photographs, as in Gus Van Sant/Kodak Box, 1981/1986. Not as rare but still infrequently glimpsed was any semblance of nature or even of the urban outdoors. The concrete exterior of Stamford Station, 2003, for instance, appears in a kind of haze (perhaps that of a train window?), and is partly screened by an orange plastic-mesh barrier; the left side of the diptych The Devil’s Half Acre, 2011, is an image of moving water taken at a spot where many people drowned during the Irish War of Independence, roughly a century ago; and that little lone black-and-white figure in Gus Van Sant/Kodak Box is seen walking across a grisaille lawn bordered by a hedge.

Maul looks carefully, even longingly, at what almost anyone else might pass over. He is fascinated, as he put it in a 1992 interview with Leslie Tonkonow (indeed, the dealer who organized this show) with “the things we see between the things we see . . . the cuttings on the memory’s editing-room floor.” When he declared his affection for the overlooked or forgotten things he photographs, Tonkonow asked, incredulously, “Do you really like shower curtains, blank pieces of paper, and office interiors?” Of course his answer was in the affirmative, although I don’t know if “like” really captures the intensely focused affect conveyed by Maul’s pictures. It’s as though he were trying to memorize, or maybe it would be better to say memorialize, sights that could have been parts of some melancholy story that intimately concerns him.

Maul’s subjects, including walls, light fixtures, and curtains, are usually seen as components—rather than unique aspects—of larger places. From titles such as London Hotel, 1989; Castle Hotel, Dublin (Dusk), 1992; and Hotel Palais, Brussels, 1998, we learn that these are sites of transience, marked by constant use, and not by any particular person’s idiosyncratic habits. And yet there is nothing impersonal about Maul’s way of looking at these places. Even the modest scale at which he prints most of his images suggests that they are glances to hold close to oneself, not to be broadcast widely. The evident carefulness of framing and lighting in these deceptively mundane pictures, the artist’s directness of gaze, tells us that Maul had reasons for taking such pains to get them right. They make the viewer want to give his images the same kind of scrupulous attention.