Genre cross-dressing

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Susan Sontag in her book “On Photography” talks at length about the interplay between painting and photography. At one point she dubs photography a “voracious enterprise,” meaning something so all-encompassing it pretty much sucked the figures, landscapes, impressionistic atmosphere, even abstraction out of painting, leaving only the brushstrokes behind.

Well now it seems that photography is gobbling up the brushstrokes, too.

Through the magic of computers and genuine fractals software, photography is capable of actually translating itself into ur-paintings on canvas — prints that appear to have brush strokes and look for all the world like tromp l’oeil paintings.

I’m value-neutral here at the moment. But I raise this as a kind of genre-globalizing that’s going on that may result, some day, in category melt-downs. “Other genres” may wind up the biggest category of them all.

Two photography exhibits are worth noting here for their painting-usurpation tendencies.

Underexposed

“Underexposed” at Temple’s Tyler Gallery, a show of emerging, photo-based, New York and New Jersey artists, has photographs that look like paintings, photographs that look like Vija Celmins drawings, and digital hybrids that weave new outcomes altogether. It’s a show that’s worth the trip to Elkins Park.

The most interesting pieces in this respect are those of Natalja Kent and the installation by the collaborative team Guldsveinen (aka Monika Broz and A.R. Wilkinson).

Guldsveinen, who use found images from e-bay’s taxidermy pages, installed what feels like a basement rec room with faux notty pine panelling and portraits of mom and sis proudly holding up the antlers from dad’s last hunting expedition. The work is so “big” it successfully takes over the gallery, imposing its atmosphere on every other print in the room.

But what’s truly new here is that the artists, instead of simply printing their found photographic icons as photographs, have tweaked them with the fractals software and printed them large on canvas, which gives them touches and daubs of color that are for all the world like delicate brushstrokes. Turning these photographs into paintings, or ur-paintings, Guldsveinen is doing for the hunting class what Alex Katz did for the New York town and country set — elevating them to mythic status. (two images are of their installation)

Kent dips in and out of the real world like a media shape-shifter. She hand draws images on some of her photographs. But she likes to doodle in cyberspace. And it’s these layered sandwiches of photo-doodle-photo-doodle that feel like something new. (image above)

Finally, the snappy video piece, Electricity, by Bryan Zanisnik, is worth a pat on the nose. While it’s not a genre-crossing work, the quick-paced ditty, an eco-consciousness montage of light switches being turned on, click, click, click, has great production values and a cute audio, and some group like the Sierra Club should snatch it up quick and run it as an issues spot on prime time as a reminder of our friends at Enron. (image above is from the video)

50% Gray at ADM

Across town the auction-gallery ADM has a large, 18-artist photography show that includes a lot of great stuff in a traditional vein and a couple of works that, while not digitally worked, are like photo-paintings. Robert Asman, an artblog contributor, has some new work — cloud photographs — that remind me of El Greco more than Vik Muniz. Playing with chemicals in the darkroom, Asman has achieved colors, surface texture and painterly atmosphere.

David LaLeike, who works with Polaroid transfers, also makes work with painterly affect. In a process that involves lifting the photo emulsion and transferring it — in one piece, like a kind of painted skin or leaf — from the original surface to another paper, Laleike has made abstract, patterned works that are pop abstractions and quite painty.

Of course Thomas Kinkade, painter of light, discovered fractals software a while ago. And, in his own way, he constitutes a second front in the painting-photography skirmish.

You can buy prints of his paintings online or in the shopping malls of America — and through the magic of computers, he can print them for you with genuine brushstrokes if you like.

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