Wednesday, March 12, 2008
"Untitled" (from Frauen), Michael Schmidt, All rights reserved
I took the afternoon off yesterday & went to Chelsea with a handwritten list of possibilities. But it was the show I just happened to stumble on -- Michael Schmidt at Mitchell-Innes & Nash -- that made my day. Hardly known in this country, Schmidt is, in his sixties, highly respected in his native Germany. But even in the land of Gursky & Struth, he's apparently no star.
Maybe he's not famous because he hasn't declared one style & stuck with it. The lovely gaminesque portrait above, for example, is from a series on young German women he made in the late 90s. But other work in this all B & W show -- dark sentiment-free landscapes, deadpan views of city scapes & nooks, architectural oddities, diptychs & other work clustered for meaning, distinctly unbeautiful portraits -- seem as though they could have been made by someone else entirely. For me this is no criticism. I'm as thrilled by Schmidt's restlessness as I am by his mastery. I like it that he seems to be making it up as he goes along. Whatever he does, his subject matter is consistently serious, even austere. But his pictures are sensual & anything but doctrinaire.
Instead of trying to tell you, I wanted to just show you. But I couldn't google up the JPGs I needed (go to the show if you're in NY.) The pictures that really impressed me feature almost unbelievably dense compositions. Peopleless city views, for example, brimming with textures, shapes, lines, tonalities -- so much disparate architecture & human creation crammed into the frame you can't imagine how it could all go together. But Schmidt has somehow made it work, without fuss, found the balance point. These pictures are a little bit like Lee Friedlander's work but less ragged. Even facing the most savage disorder in nature, Schmidt seems able to find unforced harmonies without sacrificing the real.
I remember, while I was looking, having a strange thought: "He's photographing human intelligence."