Chris Marker: Passengers at Peter Blum

by Will Brand on April 20, 2011 · 3 comments Reviews

Chris Marker: Passengers
Venue: Peter Blum Gallery526 West 29th Street
AFC’s Rating: 1/10 (Will Brand)

“Passengers”, the latest show of Chris Marker’s work at Peter Blum, would have made a substandard Tumblr. The theme: people (mostly girls) on the subway staring into the middle distance and looking a little bit sad. The artist used a spy camera hidden inside his watch, so I guess that’s cool, and some of the photos have been mucked about with a little bit in Photoshop. That’s it. That’s all the content here, and given the more than two hundred photographs lining the gallery it’s pretty thinly-spread.

Maybe, as the press release hints, the photographs are about the alienation necessary to “cope with modern urban life”, but that’s an idea that’s been around for two centuries. Has Marker discovered something new here? Are his juxtapositions of canonical ideal figures and the faces of girls on the train, as in a series at Blum’s Soho space, anything more than a bit of fun? What does Photoshop, symbol-rich as it now is, have to do with any of it? How about this: sometimes people just stare off into the distance. Often they do it on the train. There’s no reason to waste your Chelsea rent telling everybody else about it.

Marker’s not a bad artist – his early films, in particular, are legendary – and this show doesn’t change that. Also, some of the photographs are aesthetically pleasing, though this is pure chance given the watch-camera. That’s all the positivity I can manage here.


tom moody April 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm

This is the filmmaker who made La Jetee. A legend, yadda yadda, but readers might want to know how the iconic still photography in that and other earlier works compare to what he’s doing now. Does his careful style of framing and eye for vernacular street scenes make the jump from “quasi-documentary” to “urban flaneur” modes of working? How much of the magic of his photos lay in chemical darkroom technology? That sort of thing.
From his Wikipedia bio I see he was a digital pioneer, and made an “art” CD-ROM in the ’90s. Another avenue to explore in writing about him is how such (now dated) media have informed current so-called (and likely-soon-to-be-dated) image aggregators such as Tumblr, and where he fits in the spectrum.
Reviewing cliched writing in the press release is usually kind of a low blow. You are privileged to be in New York seeing the actual work–others have to travel here.

Will Brand April 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Everything you’re saying is true, and insightful to boot; you’re good at this sort of thing, so thanks. If I’d written a long-form review, not mentioning any of that would have been a failure. This isn’t meant to be a full review, though, because frankly I don’t think this work is worth it; it really is just bad. That’s all I needed to convey to the reader, because it’s more important that they not waste their time than that they be prepared for an in-depth discussion about this work that will never happen. There is stuff to say about this work, but that’s mostly insofar as there is stuff to say generally; this is a below-average segue into that conversation. That’s all very harsh, of course, and I feel bad about that, but it’s honest.

Maybe Marker’s history means he’s grandfathered in, but from what I’ve read about him I don’t think he’d like to be considered that way. On the other hand, to hit another of your points, I’m not sure comparing him to image aggregators would have worked either; even with a digital pedigree, there’s nothing in the exhibition that brings them to mind as anything other than an insult.

Slightly related (I only realized this wasn’t actually in response to anything after I’d written it): The Photoshopping hints at Marker’s digital interests (they’re all digital photos, it should be said), but it’s ineffective – I was aware of it, but in almost every case it was more of a distraction than an enhancement. Besides which, as I stated, Marker wasn’t dealing with any of the issues surrounding Photoshop and digital editing that other artists and writers have brought to our attention since at least 1994 (I’m thinking “The Reconfigured Eye”). If an element is neither contributing to the whole piece nor saying anything significant on its own (or even by its inclusion), it doesn’t belong there and the work is worse for having it.

David B April 21, 2011 at 9:34 pm

I had high hopes, walked out very disappointed aside from the conversation I had with the girl holding the fort. I agree with Will, the photoshopping was a distraction very poorly done, the parallel with masterpieces was relevant to… well, I’m still trying to figure that one out.

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