This small but compelling installation presents a variety of images by A Photographic Installation
this Houston-based photographer and film maker. Hanging in the otograc nst ation
foyer of the gallery, the show breaks down into three separate Davis/McClain Gallery
component groups on three separate walls. Each component, in March 19-April 9
turn, is made up of a number of smaller photographs,
individually framed and dangling in groups from varying by M a r k Pe t r
lengths of black ribbon, sometimes overlapping, and covering a
large area of wall. A visual mdlange is created by different styles of frames, sizes, and imagery in apparently random order. A valence, upholstered in
dark floral print fabric (purportedly from the artist's grandmother, but distracting here) covers the area where the ribbons are nailed and seems to
lower the ceiling, creating a more intimate atmosphere for sharing Little Secrets.
The individual images that make up each group are still-lifes, portraits, random street photographs, and landscapes, some manipulated to varying
degrees. From these, one can pluck a good many memorable, even beautiful images. The problem with the installation, however, is that the
general visual tumult encroaches upon appreciation of individual images. The viewer is forced to seek connections or a narrative from the
disparate materials. While this situation mirrors the image-laden state of postmodern culture at large, within the context of the installation it has
a frustrating leveling effect, making the weaker images appear more interesting and the stronger images appear dependent on the others. Such a
self-conscious, superficially postmodern strategy allows viewers to make what they will of the show, in effect free to disregard either the overall
significance of each group, or the aesthetic merits of individual images. This must be comfortable for both the gallery and photographer alike;
while the checklist lists the three groupings as entire works, at the bottom it notes: "Individual photos or smaller groups of photos available.
Although its exhibition space is hardly
ideal, with its institutional fluorescent
lighting and the constant audible
encroachment of the Southwest
Freeway, the Goethe-Institut has
mounted several intriguing
photographic exhibits in recent years.
Just last year, Herlinde Koelbl's series
Jewish Portraits was shown here, and
this year features the American debut
of her compelling series, Nina. The
fourteen black and white photographs F
by Herlinde Koelbl
Nina, who worked for 30 years as a model at
Munich's Art Academy, and is now in her 70's.
Long after her modeling career was over,
Koelbl met Nina and proposed this project, a
study of the female body in old age. Later,
Koelbl wrote of Nina, "She takes great pride in
her body, loves it-also in old age-and she has
no qualms about showing it."
The model's spirit shines through in these
portraits, both clothed and nude. Posed and
displayed in the manner of traditional life
studies, the images of Nina's body would meet
all the requirements of a "male gaze" critique.
Except Koelbl is female, and Nina is well
past that somewhere-past-forty age
when elderly models seem to exist only
from the neck up. Koelbl shows all of
Nina: wrinkles, sagging folds of flesh,
age spots, and indomitable spirit.
Koelbl's close-ups of the model's skin
border on abstraction. The breast and
torso, parts of the female anatomy that
have been objectified for centuries-
from the buxom Venus of Willendorf to
the taut flesh of a Playmate-here offer the
loose skin and protruding stomach that are the
natural effects of the aging process. Also, by
lighting each pose with a single source, Koelbl
creates a dramatic play of shadow and light.
Instead of obscuring the effects of age, her use
of light is rather reminiscent of Rembrandt's
use of chiaroscuro in his matter-of-fact, usually
non-demeaning portraits of elderly sitters.
Indeed, while Koelbl is not alone in her
photographic re-explorations of aging, her
approach seems the most sensitive, and least
exploitative, of many.
artl i e s RAPID RESPONSES
Chandler, Wade & Schwab, Eric Jonah. Art Lies, Volume 2, May-June 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228035/. Accessed May 5, 2015.