September 2011

Jean-Marc Bustamante



Jean-Marc Bustamante was an early proponent of large-format color photography as an artistic, not just documentary, medium. This show included a selection of his images from that pioneering period of the 1970s to the early 1990s. The works often dwell on the idea of the taming of nature and the mysterious, strangely alienating effect it can have on the landscape and the viewer. He brings a theatrical feel to a curtain of cypresses, with an almost identical image of these trees repeated in five wall-mounted photographs (all 1991). The artist presented each photograph as a separate work, but they feel like a single, concept-heavy study of obedient nature turned into architecture. He drove the theme home with a sculpture consisting of the same image embedded in 12 different boxes.

Bustamante came across in this show as a restless, multitalented force of nature. He works in wood, metal, sand, and paper, among other materials, with impressive results. His Double Miroir consists of two frames in steel and orange paint, smartly presented by the gallery so that you approach it from the side, not head-on. It’s a lovely piece, subdued and yet strong and a bit forbidding in its metal armature, and it exudes a Minimalist cool. The piece’s twin steel rectangles echo the concrete foundations of half-finished houses in pictures from more than a decade earlier, not the only time the artist has shifted an image from photograph to sculpture and back.

Things took a more decorative turn in recent work on the gallery’s upper floor, which was dedicated mostly to a series of ink designs on Plexiglass and steel. Some bring to mind Monet’s lily ponds reimagined in sleek, industrial monotones associated with clothes dyes or advertising. Others evoke 1960s Pop art, yet, compared to Bustamante’s earlier work, they look a bit flat and one-dimensional.

–Roger Atwood