Marco Breuer, Nature of the Pencil @Von Lintel

JTF (just the facts): A total of 16 works, framed in white and unmatted, and hung in the single room gallery. The gallery space has been painted with a thick band of dark grey chalkboard paint. The prints have been hung against this background, and Breuer has added (and subsequently erased in some cases) various notations in chalk. A pair of photocopied images have also been taped to the wall. The unique chromogenic prints come in various sizes, from roughly 9×7 to 24×20, and were all made in 2009 or 2010. (Installation shots at right, via Von Lintel.)

Comments/Context: Marco Breuer’s last show at Von Lintel (roughly a year and a half ago, here) was hung in a generally conventional manner: framed images were placed at eye level against the white walls of the gallery. The installation focused the viewer’s attention on the finished product, object quality of the artworks, and on the underlying physical processes that were used to create their abstract colors and patterns.

Fast forward to Breuer’s newest show, and something altogether different is going on. The artist is still hard at work in the darkroom, taking light sensitive papers and experimenting with a dizzying array of loosely controlled scrapes, scratches, and cuts, searching for new visual outcomes. What’s new this time around is that Breuer has installed the recent pictures in a way that invites us into his brain, to watch as he improvises and iterates on ideas. In many ways, it is almost an exhibition of the remnants of a cerebral performance piece more than it is an exhibition of photographs.

Each image or set of images has a series of cryptic annotations written in chalk near the framed works. The analytical, puzzle solver in me felt challenged to figure out what each one meant. Were they dimensions? Or commentary? Or symbolic references? 4.6.6 is scrawled above one of the pastel, geometric abstractions. I stood for a few moments before I figured it out: 4 lines, 6 colors, 6 shapes. Under a spider web of scratchings are images of a light bulbs with strike through slashes. Aha, these works were made by scratching the paper with a piece of glass, trying to find the approximate center of the paper, completely in the dark. As you walk around the room, there is a distinct sense of intellectual art in progress, of process being figured out along the way, with a little help from both chance and craft.

I found the images of vibrant blue and yellow, almost like folded, interrupted waves across the surface of the paper, to be the most visually compelling; they really stick out from far away. The others require a more intimate look: tiny lines that shuttle and wiggle across the image as though they were raked by an array of manic seismograph needles. What I liked best, however, was the exposition of Breuer’s thoughts, the ability to see how he makes aesthetic connections. The unconventional installation gives the artworks a more personal grounding and backstory, opening up an unusual opportunity for the viewer to appreciate the thinking that has gone on.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $5900 and $12500, based on size. (In fact, I was told that there is a mathematical equation for pricing, based on a price per square inch.) Breuer’s work has very little secondary market history, gallery retail remains the best option for collectors interested in following up.

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