Nicolas Baier and Valerie Blass closing at MOCCA ...
This blog is of course meant to be aimed at openings, not closings, but being on the other side of the country for the past few months necessitates some of the latter, namely, the exhibition of Nicolas Baier's work set to close next week at the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art.
You might know that Baier, best-known for his digital photographic collages, is something of a darling of the current Montreal scene and, along with Pascal Grandmaison, among the forefront of a generation of artists there currently drawing international collectors like fat kids to a spilled box of Smarties (as a former husky lad myself, I feel somewhat justified in the simile).
Last summer saw the biggest and best instalment of the Quebec Trienniale, a brillaint showcase of local talent, and while it's not about to rival Venice, thanks to artists like Baier and Grandmaison, it's become a significant stop on the international circuit.
But I digress. Baier's M.O., for the MOCCA show at least -- is the self-consciously vain attempt at an aesthetic paradox: The abstract photograph (that's one of Baier's Paesine series, above, from 2008; it's a slab of stone the name of which, kind of obviously, translates to 'landscape,' which adds another layer to Baier's shtick).
To get all semantic for the moment, there is of course no such thing as an abstract photo: A lens opens, light enters, and imprints on the film (or digital register, most often now), and that's all it is. A photograph captures something -- whether you can discern what or not doesn't change the simple fact of its subject's physicality. Obscure light, extreme close-up, lack of focus -- none of it makes it any more abstract than Donald Trump's hair.
So it's kind of a simplistic pivot point, to take images of raw materials like stone and show them at a perspective and scale where they confuse the eye; but Baier's got a few more formal tricks here that are much more complex and compelling. Vanitas (installation view at right), for one, a massive collage of peeling antique mirrors that Baier has scanned and assembled in a giant mosaic. Still simple -- images of mirrors don't offer reflection, confounding expectation -- but much more magnetic than the staid close-ups of stone.
But the best work here is from Baier's Noir series (2007-2008), seen at left, alas, in a very poor installation shot from MOCCA. If you were to see the work in person, you'd see a grid of haunting cityscapes, flat and barely discernable, floating in charcoal ombre like some barely-remembered dream. Baier has taken black and white photographs and slowly (and digitally) stripped away layers of information, using this gently reductive process to render the images indistinct -- more evocative than particular, a sort of oblique dreamscape simmering with a quiet menace. Of everything at MOCCA, for me, at least, these are the things that stay, which in my books, is as good a measure of the work as any.
Not to give short shrift, Baier shares MOCCA until the end of the month with Quebec sculptor Valerie Blass, an up-and-comer that made a bit of a bang at the Trienniale last summer as well. Wildly provocative, adventurous, and more than a little hilarious (that's her Straw Man, or L'Homme de Paille, at right), Blais fearlessly combines unlike opposites in forms that challenge convention in a cheeky, sometimes mind-twisting way. Blass, no doubt, freights her work with conceptual intent; but you don't need to know a bit of it to embrace it simply as gloriously wacked-out eye candy.