On Modern American Art: Selected Essays

By Robert Rosenblum | Go to book overview

MARK INNERST'S TIME CAPSULES 1990

Travel in time and space can shrink things to lilliputian dimensions. Already on our way to the airport, the city we are leaving behind begins to shrivel into the phantom reality of the past tense, and after takeoff, our lofty, extraterrestrial view puts the final seal on a time capsule to be stored within the fluid scale of memory. And now, confronting the unimaginable mirage of the twenty-first century just over the horizon often produces a similar effect, stirring a mood of retrospection, both historical and personal, that has been welling in the art of our century's final decades. In a strange about-face from the passion for the future that marks the origins of twentieth-century life, many younger artists have been looking to the past, as if it were disappearing so rapidly before the onslaught of the next millennium that it had to be scrutinized, cherished, and preserved like the most precious relic.

Such an impulse is central to Mark Innerst's work and is proclaimed immediately by two of its most conspicuous features. For one thing, there is the actual size of his paintings and drawings, whose miniature dimensions can even be sensed instantly in reproductions. Often, his works can be held in the palm of one hand, sometimes reaching such diminutive extremes that we feel we must reach for a magnifying glass to see them at all. And should they expand beyond a foot in width, this modest breadth is probably justified by containing nothing less than the panoramic infinities of a cosmic, if still recognizably American landscape, perhaps on the verge of an undefined apocalypse. Contrary to our prevailing habits of quickly absorbing from a distance paintings hung on the other side of large rooms, Innerst forces us to look at his works up close, one at a time.

Second in prominence is the startling emphasis on the proportionately large size and age of his old-fashioned frames, which at times overpower the minuscule images they enclose, as if they were venerable treasure chests in which the unique records of a vanishing experience were buried. Whatever we see--an easel painting of a frescoed ceiling from the Italian Renaissance; a cuckoo clock or a gold pocket watch inherited from an earlier generation; a still unpolluted fragment of the American landscape or a vault of toxic sky over the industrialized Mississippi River--is instantly detached from the present tense, to be transformed, like a butterfly pinned to a page, into a magically small but intense souvenir of an experience that now exists only in a nostalgic realm of recall. In Innerst's work, an aerial view of a miniaturized Brooklyn from an eagle's height may seem as remote in time and space as a tiny facsimile of a painting by Bronzino. Both experiences have been fitted to manageable sizes for safekeeping in the artist's image bank.

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