Magazine article Artforum International

John Divola: Santa Barbara Museum of Art/los Angeles County Museum of Art/pomona College Museum of Art

Magazine article Artforum International

John Divola: Santa Barbara Museum of Art/los Angeles County Museum of Art/pomona College Museum of Art

Article excerpt

It is only fitting that photographer John Divola's midcareer survey, "As Far as I Could Get," would be spread across three California museums in three different counties. Those who have managed to see it all surely didn't see it all in a day, and this insertion of ellipses into the viewer's experience seems apt for a body of work concerned with temporalities, the photographic suspension of movement and stasis, and the poetics of presence and absence.

The show's curators, Britt Salvesen, Karen Sinsheimer, and Kathleen Howe, eschewed chronology and threaded Divola's thematic interests throughout all three presentations. Several series in the exhibition, "Vandalism," 1973-75; "LAX/Noise Abatement Zone," 1975-76; and "Dark Star," 2008; as well as the Theodore Street Project, 2013 (all of which were installed at Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the lead institution in this collaborative effort), share a premise with Divola's best-known series, "Zuma," 1977-78 (which was on view at Pomona College Museum of Art): the documentation of abandoned houses in their entropic, vandalized states. In decrepit rooms, the artist sometimes arranged detritus or dressed up decaying walls with spray-paint squiggles and dots, filling in a cast shadow or tracing the outlines of a chance arrangement. Other photographs catch tenuous stagings--the odd object tossed into the frame, captured midflight--thus assuming a hybrid of documentation, action, and tableau in which the authorship of elements in the scene is left ambiguous; Divola's derelict spaces bear the marks of unseen actors, the artist being only the most recent among a slew of past residents and vagrants.

If his practice has braided strands of documentary photography, Conceptualism, painting, and performance, Divola's concerns have diverged from those of his contemporaries who interrogated the operations of the image in the '70s and '80s, insofar as his work has remained faithfully photographic. He has sought to affirm, above all, what a photograph can do--and, in a sense, what it cannot. "In all my work there's this notion of the melancholic," he once observed, in a rather Barthesian mood. "You can make a photograph about the sublime, but you can't make the sublime itself. …

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