Lewis Baltz – Portfolios

We’ve had a new art gallery in North Vancouver for about a year now, but this is the first time I’ve managed to squeeze in a visit to the Griffin Art Projects Gallery. The photographic exhibition, Lewis Baltz – Portfolios is part of next month’s Capture Photography Festival in Vancouver and I was lucky to get an early viewing. This is the first solo exhibition of Lewis Baltz’s work in Vancouver.

The gallery is quite small and I found its layout quite similar to that of the Gordon Smith Gallery – an ante room followed by the main gallery space with a standalone wall built at the far end of the gallery.

Lewis Baltz is counted as one of the New Topographic artists of the 70’s and 80’s and he photographed the American landscape in a detached Minimalist approach. William Jenkins compared his stylistic approach to that of Ed Ruscha’s detached point of view in his oevre Twentysix Gasoline Stations. Baltz’s work, however, is more stark and detached and completely devoid of people. His work is displayed in a grid format, thereby giving no importance to any one image specifically. The images work as a whole together and were hung quite closely together and framed with a thin silver frame which contributed to the muted overall tones of his images.

The series format suits his desire that no one image be taken as more true or significant than another, encouraging the viewer to consider not just the pictures but everything outside of the frame as well, emphasizing the monotony of the man-made environment. The pictures themselves resist any single point of focus, framed as they are to present the scene as a whole without bringing attention to any particular element within.

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Fos Secteur 80, Element #1-21, 1987 by Lewis Baltz

The images in the exhibition expose the impact that industrialization has on the unconscious margins of progress in the American landscape. Images of the detritus produced and disposed of by urban development reverberate from the first few images of the town, increasing in shock and impact. The further one moves from the edgelands of the town, the more discarded builders’ rubble is found. Dumped old TV sets, dead sheep and pieces of sheet iron that have been used for target practice litter the outskirts of the town.

Near Reno, 1986 by Lewis Baltz

But throughout the various series the aura of total detachment pervades. However, something felt a little off for me. I think possibly the muted tones of the photos may have contributed to this feeling. They might not appear as muted in my photos above, but in many I had some difficulty discerning the edge of the photo and the beginning of the matt and the light silver frame didn’t let the eye stop to pause (maybe this was the intention). The grid presentation is quite “in your face” as you are literally bombarded with images from all sides and by the time you have read them all they form a blur in the mind.

The gallery is having a panel discussion on Baltz’s work early in April and I will see if I can manage to get to that as I think it might be helpful in understanding his work.

Bibliography

O’Hagan, Sean (2014). Lewis Baltz Obituary [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/04/lewis-baltz [Accessed 26 March, 2017]

Reference List

Museum of Contemporary Photography (n.d.) Baltz, Lewis 1945-2014 [online] Museum of Contemporary Photography. Available at: http://www.mocp.org/detail.php?type=related&kv=6860&t=people [Accessed 26 March, 2017]

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