Monday, June 14, 2010

Jochen Lempert at Museum Ludwig Cologne

Back in May I had saw the show of Jochen Lempert's work at Museum Ludwig. I'd never seen or heard of this artist and the quiet subtleness of his photographs were a surprising revelation and a reminder that something quite profound can be made from almost nothing. Made from the heart with no try-hard artifice, the photographs had a simple beauty both in execution and presentation. The shows closes June 13.

Here is an extract from a review of Lempert's show at Culturgest, Lisbon published in Aperture, Winter 2009

Seen one at a time, Jochen Lempert’s black-and-white photographs of the natural world and its inhabitants do not make great claims upon a viewer. Some have artless compositions; others seem out of focus or to have no subject at all. Encountered in aggregate, however, as in Field Work, the first major survey of Lempert’s photographs presented outside his native Germany, they possess a quietly mesmeric force. This exhibition, organized by Miguel Wandschneider, was an unforeseen revelation. Its scores of images, printed at modest scale on thick paper that the artist allows to warp slightly as it dries, were presented unframed, either singly or in rows and grids according to subject. These arrangements collapsed the distinctions between documentary naturalism and lyrical Conceptualism, the two contemporary photographic genres into which one is tempted to slot Lempert’s work. That Lempert’s silver-gelatin prints look more like charcoal drawings than they do conventional photographs further accentuates the artist’s singular achievement.

Lempert trained as a biologist before embarking upon his work as a photographer in the early 1990s, and the scientist’s rigorous avidity was one of this exhibition’s leitmotifs. He pursues his (mostly avian) subjects intently, finding them both in the field—whether urban or rural—and in the natural history museum. One series of images, each printed smaller than a sheet of letter-size paper, depicts lone cormorants moving gracefully through various urban environments: one is silhouetted against the sky between an imposing skyscraper façade and the delicate filigree of tree branches; another hovers just above a river’s surface at the bottom of a picture dominated by an apartment tower and a bridge. Still others register the concentric ripples set off by the birds’ feet as they flap across unknown waterways, evoking Adam Fuss’s tranquil studies of splashes. Several other series, arrayed in grids, depict the heads and beaks of various taxidermy specimens in a uniform style, calling to mind not only the presentations in natural-history museums but also Richard Prince’s collections of women extracted from advertisements and Bernd and Hilla Becher’s industrial censuses.

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