Photography used to be like alchemy in the nineteenth century. It was the medium of the few; now it is a mass medium-and slightly dead. Maybe it is reactionary to turn backwards, to try and establish art history again, but that is the most interesting part of the process-not just the black box.
Gagosian Hong Kong is pleased to announce an exhibition of photographs by Florian Maier-Aichen. Encompassing a selection of images produced over the past decade, this is the first exhibition of his work in Hong Kong.
Maier-Aichen combines traditional photographic techniques--albumen, silver-gelatin, and c-printing--with hand-drawn elements and computer-imaging processes. Inspired by early photographers who used combination printing to heighten the colors and details of their landscape images, he makes seamless photographs that do not betray the intricate and layered modes of production required to create them. A broader poetic landscape tradition--from Song dynasty depictions of nature to the nineteenth century, multi-negative innovations of Gustave Le Gray--is at work in each image. Maier-Aichen's manipulations recall the stylized scenery of calligraphic scroll landscapes, which are also treated as spontaneous distillations of reality. Foregoing representational genres altogether, some of his latest works elevate abstractions produced by hand and splatters of paint to a new realm of photo-painterly gesture.
Maier-Aichen's practice is cultivated in part by his awareness of photography's documentarian nature and the parallel history of artistic and technological innovation. Mesmerizing aerial shots--often of California landscapes, which for Maier-Aichen summon notions of both fantasy and natural disaster--recall the pioneering topographical photographs of Carleton Watkins, while recurrent snow-topped mountain ranges evoke the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. In Maier-Aichen's oeuvre, these panoramic views are but foundations for further exploration. He distorts these perspectives in unexpected ways, shooting on infrared film to achieve fantastical colors, or using elaborate digital effects. In Untitled (2005), a tumultuous wake gives way to a seascape that nods directly to Gustave Le Gray's Brig Upon the Water (c. 1856), an early composite image. In Maier-Aichen's iteration, the albumen process of the original is repeated, but is offset by the presence of a modern industrial tanker releasing a cloud of diesel smoke.
Untitled (2013) is from a new series of abstract compositions in which a splatter is the central motif. The splatters are produced by pouring acrylic paint directly and spontaneously onto paper rolls. A reproduction of the splatter is then laid over color graduated backgrounds on a huge copystand, and re-photographed. Different levels of detail emerge out of the multiple layers of process, recalling former times in traditional photography when the image would slowly and miraculously materialize in the darkroom developing tray. In another singular work, a dynamic drawn line reminiscent of ink-wash painting or calligraphy is similarly transformed into a photographic still-life against a studio backdrop. The unique gesture is thus a stand-in for the decisive moment of the shutter that produces the snapshot, reflecting Maier-Aichen's desire to provide a romantic counterpart to the technical side of photography.
Florian Maier-Aichen was born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1973. His work has been collected and exhibited by museums including The Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture Center, Los Angeles; Cincinnati Art Museum; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Denver Art Museum; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Recent solo museum exhibitions include Museum of Contemporary Art at Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles (2007); and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (2008). Selected group exhibitions include "The Artistʼs Museum," Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, 2010); "The Smithson Effect," Utah Museum of Fine Arts (Salt Lake City, 2011); and "Natural History," Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, 2012). Maier-Aichen lives and works in Cologne and Los Angeles.