Monday, July 7, 2008

File Under Philippe Gronon

(originally published 6/30/2008 on

Philippe Gronon’s exhibition at Yossi Milo Gallery, comprised of highly rendered photographs of safes, elevators, and card catalogues, is a room of doors waiting to be opened. One’s fingers itch to spin the combination locks and tug the handles. Behind the wall, ropes would pulley and cylinders would tumble and then cavities would appear, holding passengers, jewels and cash, unfamiliar air.

The setup is deceptively simple—there are five photographs of safes hung in a row on the east wall of the gallery; across from them, three photographs of card catalogues, and on the north and south walls, single photographs of elevator doors. All are silver gelatin prints scaled to the actual size of the objects they depict. Whether or not Gronon’s aim is to create an illusion or simply represent the objects with absolute accuracy, there is a definite photography-as-sculpture aspect to his work. All of the photographs are printed full bleed and most of them are hung unframed, effectively repositioning them as 3D objects (one photograph, "Safe" (1991), has even been trimmed flush with the curved edges of the lockbox itself. Ceci n'est pas une pipe !). There is a great amount of detail; shooting with a studio camera, Gronon captures the cold texture of steel and the softness of worn wood, and chips and scratches in metal surfaces are indistinguishable from imperfections in the emulsion. The only thing working against a complete mirage is the lack of color.

The strongest piece in the exhibition—Gronon’s first in the US—is "Elevator, Lyceum Kennedy, New York" (2005). Standing in front of this life-sized photograph puts the viewer in the funny position of waiting for an elevator that will never arrive. There is a humid handprint the shiny door, and a smudged window just above eye level acts as a portal to another layer altogether. This piece especially evokes the vertiginous quality of a movie set—buildings and trees and fire hydrants that turn out to be flat when you peek behind them. Gronon’s show manages to possess both the dispassionate principles of New Objectivity and the whimsy of Alice In Wonderland, and for that reason alone it’s worth seeing.

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