Diane Meyer: Berlin @Klompching

JTF (just the facts): A total of 43 color photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung in a continuous top-aligned line against white walls in the main gallery space and the back room. All of the works are archival pigment prints with hand sewn thread/embroidery, made between 2012 and 2019. Physical sizes range from roughly 2×7 to 14×16 inches and all of the works are available in editions of 3+2AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Making photographs of absence is a tricky proposition. In photographing something that is permanently missing, temporarily removed, or an echo of something long gone (like memories), the artist must wrestle with the fact that the central subject just isn’t there for the camera to see. Sometimes, the surroundings are forced to carry the load of implication or imagination, a big empty space in the middle of the frame leaving us room to invent our own interpretation of what is omitted. In others, symbols and allegories are used as allusive stand-ins, essentially replacing the absent thing with something that reminds us of what isn’t present.

In her multi-year series of images of Berlin, Diane Meyer uses both of these strategies. Her subject is the now demolished and removed Berlin Wall, her cityscapes (and landscapes) documenting various locations along the roughly 100-mile path it once occupied. Some of the earliest images in the project used still standing guard towers, checkpoints, and other remnants to help us with the visualization process, but as the series has progressed, Meyer’s scenes have become less and less identifiable as places where a wall (or border) once stood. Given that 30 years have passed since the wall came down, it’s not surprising that overt evidence of the separation of the city is becoming harder to find, and Meyer’s works have evolved just as the city has, reminding us of the historical ghosts that linger almost everywhere.

Many of the sections of the original Berlin Wall were made of thick concrete (later covered by graffiti), so it was impossible to have a complete view of the other side. To replicate this feeling of visual interruption, Meyer has painstakingly obscured parts of her intimately-sized images (a few the size of drugstore snapshots) with dense cross-stitch embroidery, physically sewing each print. In the areas where the wall once stood, Meyer’s works are now blurred by the color-matched embroidery – we can still discern what is pictured, but the effect is akin to digital pixelization or veiling. She has in a sense put the wall back where it once stood, so we can reintroduce the tangible divisions that once split the city.

Several of the early works in Meyer’s series are quite literal – they depict a straightforward scene where the wall once stood, and the embroidered wall is placed at the same scale on the image, like a horizontal (or receding) stripe. When paired with a hulking guard tower, a scrubby city park, a roadway underpass, a deserted amusement park, or the view down a city street, the ideas Meyer is asking us to consider (here it stood, now it’s gone, but is it?) are offered with a kind of deadpan clarity.

Other works are more subtle and indirect. A few are interior scenes, including views of the former interrogation rooms and offices of the State Secret Police. Here, since the wall doesn’t run through the room itself but is more conceptual, Meyer adds blocks of floating embroidery that hover and disrupt the setups, like the fading of memory. Other locations where the wall couldn’t have run or that have been wholesale transformed (a swimming pool, a newly constructed apartment block, some park benches, a thick hedge, a wall with square windows) are similarly upended by pixel-style sewing, the images coming in and out of focus. And some parts of the Berlin Wall weren’t actually concrete, but were fencing or other barriers, so Meyer recreates echoes of these intricate patterns on views of thick forests, river zones, and other natural spaces.

Some of the strongest works in the show pull in closer, making the embroidered wall a larger proportion of the surface area of the print, thereby making the claustrophobia and blockage all the more intrusive. A triangular house with red trim is veiled all the way to the roofline, preventing us from seeing the seemingly happy domesticity near the driveway. The same is true for a view of busy Potsdamer Platz, the wall reaching above the heads of the pedestrians. And at the Brandenburg Gate, all that is visible above the blur are the tops of the ornate columns; the crowds below are effectively erased. Meyer has also included views that are more modest, but in a sense more insidious – the wall sneaking through a back garden, winding around a billboard, or nestling up near a green townhouse.

Meyer’s approach succeeds because the visual device of the sewn areas is effective at communicating the permanent there/not there duality she is getting at, but the embroidery never becomes distracting as precious craftiness. It’s not decoration, or embellishment, or showy cleverness – it’s a method for smudging our view, in ways that make us think about the strands of history that inhabit a place like Berlin. In an elegantly understated way, she’s made the invisible visible again, collapsing time in the span of single frames.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $1300 and $9000, based on size. Meyer’s work as little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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