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Art Reviews, Cultural Bric a Brac, Jargon Free

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

I am an independent writer living in Los Angeles. I write Visual Art Reviews, General Cultural Essays, and Book Reviews.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Miles Coolidge


Miles Coolidge
Acme Gallery
Through February 9, 2008

Miles Coolidge currently has a show this month at both Casey Kaplan in New York and Acme in Los Angeles. Originally from Canada, Coolidge studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher at the famous Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, the school of the likes of Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Struth, and many more of the strongest photographers working today. Like the Bechers and many of their famous students, Coolidge is drawn to the overlooked or the abandoned, uses types or themes in his work, and is dedicated to a precise rendering of objects to give his subjects a carved, crisp feel. Coolidge, who now works in Los Angeles, has grown into his new environment especially in terms of content -- suburban garages, bridges, and strip malls. Now, he has turned his attention to abandoned furniture, and his new work at Acme is understated but very impressive.

The photographs initially remind one of the Bechers with their strong center images and the crisp detail of the furniture surfaces, but it is perhaps more interesting to regard their relationship to the history of perception and to the wonderful still lives of Jeff Wall. To many, Wall’s most highly regarded photographs are his still life series from the early nineties, especially Diagonal Composition, 1993 and Some Beans, 1990. These photographs were considered brilliant reprisals and critiques of modernist composition, specifically Constructivism. At the same time, Wall’s photographs complicate perception and make the simplest scenes and scenarios seem alien and full of disjuncture. The clean lines and shapes that one would expect from constructivism become the dirty lines of a sink and the old legs of a table.

Coolidge’s series Street Furniture does a similar thing, and in my opinion they might even be more effective. While Wall reinvents Constructivism through carefully framed images of rough, workshop moments, Coolidge arranges found furniture in such a way that the couches and chairs define a certain discourse on perception. The photos establish themselves through a straightforward figure (the furniture presents itself to the viewer as it would in life) but then the ground of the picture shifts in innovative ways. The result is a disorientation that compels one to examine how one sees, namely that the habits of looking that determine the experiential ground by which you see. The viewers’ sense of left, right, down up, does not match the world presented in the photo. This disjoint is interesting.

Most of the time when one thinks of experiential art, one thinks of installations or sculptors as in the shifting planes of weight and steel constructed by Richard Serra, the soft walls of Robert Irwin, or the perhaps the demented Broadway of Mike Kelley. One does not typically go to a photograph. Even though Coolidge’s art is not in the round, it still creates a physical experience -- one could say anti-phenomenological experience where we are forced out of our normal, embodied way of going through life.

Photos courtesy of Acme Gallery