Magazine article Artforum International

Elger Esser: Sonnabend

Magazine article Artforum International

Elger Esser: Sonnabend

Article excerpt

Had Elger Esser deliberately set out to produce two apparently opposite bodies of work, he might well have settled on the landscape photographs for which he is best known and the enlarged shots of vintage seaside postcards in his recent show. The former photographs, large-scale in the manner of much current German photo art (Esser is yet another former student of Bernd and Hilla Becher), are beautiful in interesting ways. Some are striking for the flat feature-lessness of the expanses they show, often of water and sand; others describe coastal or riverine spots of no self-evident uniqueness, so that it is hard to tell what prompted their selection. In either case Esser seems to be attempting to unravel the codes of the picturesque, deflating the dramas of perspective and the carefully shaped view. The postcard series, on the other hand, is explicitly bound up with those codes, which are the stuff of this kind of image. Far-off mountains, crashing waves, scene-stealing children, local landmarks--all the features that were previously so painstakingly shunned have insinuated themselves here with a vengeance.

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And yet the new images are not merely picturesque. They recall, in fact, a group of mountain landscapes that Gerhard Richter painted in the second half of the '90s, which scrupulously block the sense of expansive space and panoptic vision that mountain landscapes are specifically good for. Greatly enlarged--the largest work here was nearly ten feet wide--the postcards develop a mottled grain, a screenlike barrier precluding total immersion in the view. …

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