Thursday, April 28, 2011

'Marco Breuer: Line of Sight' at de Young Museum | San Francisco Chronicle Review/Interview

Conceptual artist Marco Breuer installs his exhibition "Line of Sight" at the de Young.

By Kenneth Baker, Chronicle Art Critic

"Despite the technical training in photography that Marco Breuer received in his native Germany, no one calls him a photographer without irony. "Conceptual artist" fits better, as visitors to his exhibition "Line of Sight" at the de Young Museum will agree. 

Besides his own work made by abusing photo-sensitive paper in various ways, the show contains an antique costume, a figure-eight-shaped shield from New Guinea, a 19th century American portrait painting masked by conservators with a patchwork of paper swatches to stabilize its crumbling surface, and an antique child's chair whose circular cushion echoes the concentric rings in Breuer's scored "Spin (C-818)" (2008). 

Yet for all the strategic thinking in it, the exhibition also makes plain Breuer's fascination with aesthetics - just not with the aesthetics of pictorial representation.

A resident of upstate New York in recent years, Breuer came to San Francisco in late March to install his show. We spoke just after he finished.

Q: This show involves much more than your own work. How did you approach it?

A: As sort of a three-part process. The first part was coming here last fall and looking at the museum collection. And you know, it's a very peculiar collection. It's deep in some areas - such as in textiles, it's incredibly deep - and in other areas it's very thin. But the range is enormous, and I had access to conservation and storage as well.

Then, I wanted to mirror that in my own work without making something new in response, so I went through my archive looking for work with the de Young objects in mind.
The third stage was working here in the gallery. ... To put it all together and respond to the peculiarities of the space and the institution.

Q: Is there an order in which the show is meant to be read?

A: No. It started with the idea of a line of sight. The original proposal was that I'd go into the collection and pull out a single piece and respond with something of mine, but then the space was much bigger than I realized, and the idea just grew and grew. ... This original line of sight starts with this - a not-very-significant painting that the conservators began to work on and stopped, because it was not worth the expense of finishing. I took the pattern of Japanese tissue they left on its surface and projected it onto the opposite wall several times, and used that as a template to hang both framed work and scraps. ... So this is how it's organized. There are different axes through the space. You can pick something up in one place and maybe find it somewhere else.

Q: There seems to be a play with mirrors and doubling, evoking the redoubling that conventional photography involves, and with shooting, as with the four-barreled shotgun over there. But there are no photographs from the Fine Arts Museums' collection.

A: The core of the photographic collection is at the Legion of Honor, and I decided to set the parameters a little tighter than that, using only what's in this building.

Q: One element I don't get is the antique costume. What is that about?

A: This particular dress, because it is so faded, is a sort of walking photogram. It used to be Prussian blue. It's like an extended recording. ... No object is done after it's made. It keeps on gathering information. ... Almost everything is light-sensitive, depending on how much time you have.

Q: What about the "Pointing Stick," represented here only by a descriptive label and a chart purporting to match the range of hues on it? Does it really exist?

A: It does exist.
We tried a lot of approaches in terms of how to access the collection. We tried through the online database, but many things I responded to online I found, in coming here, didn't do anything for me as objects, with the exception of this piece" 

Read full review/interview at the San Francisco Chronicle

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