Arnold Odermatt. (Reviews: Chicago)

By Schwabsky, Barry | Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Arnold Odermatt. (Reviews: Chicago)


Schwabsky, Barry, Artforum International


ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO

Photography has always been an art of the accident, and at one level the best work of Arnold Odermatt seems to underline this with its subject matter, car crashes. And yet the work requires us to question both terms--art and accident. From 1948 until his retirement in 1990, Odermatt was a traffic policeman in the remote Swiss canton of Nidwalden; a photo buff, he took it upon himself to supplement the diagrammatic drawings that were part of the normal documentation of traffic accidents with images from his Rolleiflex. Curiously, he would make two sets of photographs for each incident; one for the official files and another, more carefully composed, that went home with him. Odermatt never attempted to exhibit the latter until his son took an interest in them, leading to the publication of a book in 1993 and, several years later, an exhibition at--appropriately enough--the Frankfurt Police Headquarters, where they caught the eye of Harald Szeemann. (No one's saying what he was doing there). Bingo, the Venice Bi ennale and all the rest.

If it's an artistic intention that makes a work of art, as has so often been claimed, then one would have to say that Szeemann and those who followed him in appreciating Odermatt's photographs are deluding themselves, or else substituting their own artistic intentions for those lacking in the photographer himself. Odermatt never set out to be an artist and still denies the name; apparently he is gratified but bemused by the art world's newfound interest in his efforts. Unless, of course, one understands such an intention to be concerned not with artistic autonomy, but rather with formal control, which Odermatt's pictures have in spades. …

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