Beate Gütschow @Sonnabend

JTF (just the facts): A total of 16 black and white light jet prints, framed in white with no mat, hung in the entry and three back galleries. The works are printed in various sizes, ranging from 36×31 up to 70×105, and are made in editions of 5 or 15. The images were created between 2004 and 2009. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: While deadpan images of decaying cities and towns have become a commonplace subject for many contemporary photographers, Beate Gütschow has taken this idea to an entirely different level in the works now on view at Sonnabend. Gütschow starts by taking hundreds of analog images of architecture in locations all over the world, and then combines fragments from these pictures digitally into seamless and entirely original views that walk the line between apparent reality and obvious falsehood.
On first glance, these abandoned buildings and empty plazas look hauntingly plausible, perhaps a documentary record of desolation from a far off failed state or a Julius Shulman-type record of some unknown architect’s massive constructions. And yet, something is just not quite right – the scale of the buildings is so immense, the wastelands that surround them are so expansive – where on earth could this be?
The word “post-apocalyptic” has become a science fiction cliché, but these images truly seem to depict a world after some kind of disaster, where nearly all the people are gone (leaving behind only a few disoriented survivors, seen wandering aimlessly between the overly huge buildings) and the open sky has become a cloudless monotone grey. The images portray a convincing alternate reality (the cobblestones and concrete are cracked and worn), one that is more than a bit unsettling and depressing.

What I think is compelling here is that Gütschow is using significant digital manipulation not in an obvious, attention grabbing fashion (look at me!), but with a degree of subtlety and understatement that draws the viewer into the trap. Once the viewer catches on (and gets over the staggering amazement of how these pictures were actually constructed), a second level of meaning in the works is discovered and their implicit commentary on our world is delivered with much more force. Even if you are not an architectural photography fan, this show merits a visit to see how digital tools can be used in sophisticated new ways.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between 8000 and 20000 Euros. To date, there have been few if any images available in the secondary markets. I very much enjoyed the works in this show, and if they weren’t so large, I could absolutely imagine adding one to our collection. I have a strong sense that these images will age well, and would provide an interesting dialogue with traditional architectural works, in the same way that Joan Fontcuberta’s fabricated flowers offer unique contrasts to normal floral still lifes.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • MOCP show, 2006 (here)
  • LS/S Aperture monograph (here), Conscientious review of the book (here)
  • Frieze magazine article (here)
  • Danziger Projects Landscape show, 2005 (here)
Beate Gütschow
Through July
Sonnabend Gallery (artnet page here)
536 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

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Read more about: Beate Gütschow, Sonnabend Gallery, Aperture


  1. rcoda /

    I know you are a serious collector, but I would like your opinion on black & white images printed on color paper. They are not as stable or archival as a silver gelatin print. There are ways to do all the manipulation you want and then have a new negative output for traditional silver printing. Is the current mindset among photography collectors that “archival” means “maybe for the rest of my lifetime” and not the traditional expectation that B&W silver prints will outlast the collector. Nothing against the images… just curious about the processes. Always enjoy your blog.

  2. Paul Pincus /

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. dlkcollection /

    On the printing process question above, we are certainly more comfortable with traditional gelatin silver prints, since we know more about their archival qualities. In general, we are skeptical (but mostly uneducated) about the durability of nearly all the inkjet type processes. In the end, the artist makes the choices about which processes best represent his/her vision. The printing technologies will clearly continue to change (beyond the capacity of any one collector to keep current) and galleries will continue to tell collectors that the prints will last 100 years or more in virtually all cases. So when the dust settles, I think we still make our decisions based on affinity for an image, and assume the print will be archival “enough” to last at least through our children’s lifetimes. But it is clearly a thorny issue, without many clear answers. Perhaps we need a professional conservator to weigh in and clear away the misconceptions.

    On the other comment, S13 is a terrific image. I like the rounded darker structure on the left front, and the spectrum of forms in the various distances.

  4. rcoda /

    Thanks for your reply. Just to clarify, I was particularly talking about B&W (grayscale) images printed on photographic color paper, not inkjet. I am aware of the archival properties of inkjet – depends on the substrate – “up to” 200 years. Color photographic paper, however, goes through a wet chemical process just as silver gelatin prints do. The difference is that there is no paper, it's mostly plastic. The best estimate I have ever seen for a “chromogenic” print is 75 years, and that's if it's stored archivally [read “never seen”]. David Fokos was one of the early pioneers of this hybrid workflow. His images are beautiful, but I wouldn't buy one because of how they are printed.

    The most beautiful color process I have ever seen was color carbon pigment transfer. When printed on Melinex they don't even know how long they last… 500 years is a conservative estimate. Black & white carbon prints possess the same archival qualities. Sadly, the process is not commercially available anymore, nor is Melinex.

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