Florian Maier-Aichen’s recent show at 303 Gallery—his fourth to date—splits into two distinct sets of photographs. One series is landscape oriented; the other is markedly abstract. Almost all of the photographs are printed on a large scale, the average size being roughly equivalent to the face of a vending machine. This may be the primary characteristic of these works; because they are large—and from a distance appear full of detail—one is naturally compelled to look closer, to inspect the surface as if tracing a road on a map. But that view is undermined by the artist. Instead his photographs function something like pointillist paintings: the details dissolve at near range.
There are seven works in the show and they incorporate a mix of photographic processes. Maier-Aichen’s three landscape photographs each utilize a different technique and depict radically disparate topographies from aerial perspectives. Consequentially they play off one another well and are more successful as a whole than any of them are on their own.
The artist shot the sprawling city of L.A., from its mountain range to its shoreline, with a filter that washed the city in shades of dull red. In stark contrast, Untitled (Andermatt) (2014) was photographed using the tri-color system in which cyan, magenta, and yellow filters are placed one by one over the lens as three separate exposures are made on a single frame. The idyllic country landscape of Switzerland and the spread of vibrant hues—most notably a super lush green—set this work in diametric opposition to the L.A. image.
Florian Maier-Aichen, Halbes Bild, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 60 7/8 x 49 1/8 inches (154.6 x 124.8 cm) framed; © Florian Maier-Aichen / Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York
Neither is as classically alluring as the third landscape, Halbes Bild (2014), which looks like a shot of the moon or Antarctica or any other barren place on the edge of a deep black abyss. Printed as a silver gelatin, the dark half of this image has the bottomless black quality of calm pond water at night. The black is almost blue. However, the traditional character of the work is held in check by a milky splotch that drips down towards the dusty looking landforms. It doesn’t pretend to be the light source illuminating the scene—though it does have a graphic lunar quality—but rather sits on top of it, adding a second layer and giving the composition an unexpected textural tension.
The show’s quartet of abstract photographs is similarly process driven, though less resolved as they attempt to plumb a line between the painterly and the photographic. These works are comprised of two fundamental components: a colored background of horizontal washes that are overlaid with splashes, dribbles, and brush strokes in black and white. With the exception of the smallest work in the show, these pieces do not comfortably cohere. Maier-Aichen’s acrylic washes have the horizontal structure but none of the luminosity of a typical Rothko canvas, and his black and white layers sit on the horizontal bands like oil on water. There is almost no integration.
Florian Maier-Aichen, Untitled, 2014, Dye transfer print, 27 x 20 3/4 inches (69 x 53 cm) image / 37 1/2 x 31 1/4 inches (95.3 x 79.4 cm) framed; © Florian Maier-Aichen / Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York
However, one of these works is superb. Untitled (2014) is not only the smallest work in the show, it is also the only dye-transfer print. This type of printing reproduces a much richer textural quality and far greater tonal range than can be found in Maier-Aichen’s other abstract pieces, which are all oversized c-prints. Here the colored background takes on the chalky character of well-rubbed pastels and the two overlaid lines—one black, one white—curl through the composition like a pair of lazily winding roads. The black line looks like it could have been sprayed on; the white line is a convincing brush stroke in the most carefree style. Nothing about this piece seems generic or forced. For an artist interested in navigating the murky terrain between painting, printing, and photography, this piece represents an apotheosis.
[Image on top: Florian Maier-Aichen, Untitled (Andermatt), 2014, C-print, 73 x 92 1/4 inches (185.4 x 234.3 cm) framed; © Florian Maier-Aichen / Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York]