Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, Raise the Bar

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2013 by RVB Books (here) and Le Bal (here). Oversized softcover, 36 pages, with 12 black and white photographs, 1 color photograph, and 7 film stills. The photographs come from the Building Berlin/Constructions series, made in 2009-2012.  The stills come from the roughly five minute black and white film, Blockbuster, from 2012 (here). Beyond a short explanatory paragraph on the back page, there are no essays or texts. (Spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: This thin volume by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs is a smart reconsideration of some of the visual lessons of 1970s Photoconceptualism. It’s a welcome reminder that understanding how a camera sees can lead to playful illusion making and clever optical trickery, and that done right, this kind of visual sophistication can conjure up surprising elegance.

Onorato and Krebs began with the forgettable apartment blocks and housing developments of Berlin (some still under construction), finding longer views of their repeating geometric forms from the grubby vacant lots that surround the area. Using sawed off two by fours, nails, bricks, tar paper, and loose sheeting, they constructed simple wooden frames and rough appendages that when seen from just the right angle, mimic the lines of the buildings in the background. Their carpentry is at once seemingly offhand and exactingly perfect; the lines trace the edges with meticulous correlation, creating a kind of delicate visual overlayer that highlights the formal architectural angles of the structures in the distance, collapsing foreground and background into one flattened composition.

Conceptually, these photographs seem like throwback cousins of Robert Cumming’s backyard constructions and John Pfahl’s altered landscapes. Their interventionist trompe l’oiel works in the same way, undermining our expectations and making us see the scene with fresh eyes. Onorato and Krebs make windows fly into the grey sky, obscure whole walls with dark paper, and create wooden echoes of concrete colonnades. Stills from their short film Blockbuster play with scale and perspective in a similar manner, a man on a ladder seeming to pound on massive towers and construction cranes with his tiny hammer.

The best of these wooden scaffolding images create a kind of brainy parallel plane, where the simplicity of the idea becomes something quietly sublime. It pares down the politics, and economics, and social issues that surround such developments, peeling all of those layers back to reveal elemental forms, turning ugliness into something with hand crafted, mathematical grace.

Collector’s POV: Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs are represented by Raeber von Stenglin in Zurich (here) and Peter Lav Gallery in Copenhagen (here); they do not appear to have New York representation at this time. Their work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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