Silver Curtain

Antoine d’Agata, Lewis Baltz, EJ Bellocq, William Christenberry, Mark Citret, John Divola, Robert Frank, Ralph Gibson, Emmet Gowin, Jim Goldberg, John Gossage, Anthony Hernandez, Todd Hido, Steve Kahn, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Daido Moriyama, Nicholas Nixon, Johann Palisa and Max Wolf, Jack Pierson, Melanie Pullen, Paul Schiek, Frederick Sommer, Alec Soth, Larry Sultan, Catherine Wagner

July 12-September 22, 2012

Opening reception: Thursday, July 12, 5:30-7:30 PM
Exhibition review:  Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle
Exhibition review: Patricia Maloney, Art Practical

Stephen Wirtz Gallery is pleased to present Silver Curtain, an exhibition of photographs.

Silver Curtain showcases photographs that address notions of presence and absence, of things concealed and revealed, by curtains both metaphorical and literal.

In some photographs, the curtain is a purely metaphorical construction. In Frederick Sommer’s photograph “Arizona Desert,” the vast sameness of the horizonless landscape conceals details that remain in plain sight. William Christenberry’s “Kudzu Devouring Building, near Greensboro, Alabama” shows an old shed that has been overrun by kudzu, the entire structure draped in thick vines; in it, we see how the veil of time and the persistence of the natural obscure and eventually devour humanity’s meager incursions, only here, glimpses of wood hold a promise of rediscovery, as if drawing back this kudzu curtain to reveal the shed beneath could restore a lost history to the present. In pictures from Paul Schiek, Mark Citret and Todd Hido, light itself raises a curtain between viewer and subject to take something immediately present and create a sense of absence—a television set as a white square of light, the image it displays unseeable; the sun pours through a boathouse door, but whatever lake or river beyond remains unknowable. We are presented the promise, but denied its delivery.

Other photographs present literal curtains, but in ways that convey a downbeat theatricality. Larry Sultan’s “Silver Curtain” manages to be both monumental and desultory; a large curtain made of a silver-gray industrial material occupies the fullness of the frame, a small part in the middle providing a glimpse at the back of a second curtain, as though each curtain exists simply and enigmatically to conceal the curtain behind it. In Jim Goldberg’s “Ternopil, Ukraine,” the viewer looks through a translucent curtain upon a bleak winter landscape in which a single figure stands; the isolation within and without is palpable, as if the viewer is watching his own lonely story played out. Alec Soth’s “Northfield, Minnesota” shows an unfurnished room with wrinkled shades drawn; we know nothing of what lies beyond, and within there is only a shabby emptiness. Thus, the curtains function as blank, two-sided canvases, inviting the creation of new, protagonistic and environmental fictions on the part of the viewer.

Considering a photograph itself as its own kind of silver curtain provides the opportunity to discover bewitching constructions in these works that—in conjunction with their enigmatic mood—create a heightened visual experience, one that startles at a glance and then holds like a sustained note, opening space for investigation, contemplation and emotional response.  What ultimately unites this set of pictures is their extension beyond what is present to suggest something more that remains elusive and absent, the in-between and uncertain, where fiction and reality become interchangeable. Perhaps some of these photographs will push the viewer away with a surface inscrutability, but to adventurous viewers who push forward to immerse themselves, the curtain just may be pulled back, and a promise revealed.