On January 15, 2000, an exhibition of
international contemporary photography will open at MASS MoCA. The
exhibition, SUPERMODEL, will be on view through June 5, 2000.
SUPERMODEL is an exhibition full of surprises, of subtle smoke-and-mirrors
tricks. These photographers cunningly tweak established conventions of
documentary architectural photography to present paper or computer models,
piles of office supplies, or bizarre architectural re-creations as though
they were actual brick and mortar buildings photographed with the utmost
sincerity. Every image hovers between two realities: the viewer first sees
a simple, even mundane photograph of a building or room, but this reality
then dissolves into something quite different (a film set, a desk toy, a Las
Vegas version of a famous place).
The artists in SUPERMODEL rely on the tradition of architectural
photography advanced by such artists as Eugène Atget, August Sander, Bernd
and Hilla Becher and Thomas Struth. They also draw from photography's
surrealist and fictional forms, found in works by artists ranging from Man
Ray to Cindy Sherman, David Levinson, and Yasumasa Morimura. Architectural
photography's close association with documentary, archival, and trade
photography make it a perfect framework for presenting fakery and fictions
to the unwitting viewer.
SUPERMODEL includes works by Miriam Bäckström, Oliver Boberg, James
Casebere, Miles Coolidge, Thomas Demand, Martin Dörbaum, Heidi Specker,
Alexander Timtschenko, and Bernard Voïta. Social, historical, and
psychological conditions manifest themselves differently in each artist's
New York artist James Casebere is the common predecessor to the other
artists in the exhibition. He began photographing tabletop models in the
late 1970s. His almost surrealist work, which over the years has included
investigations of public spaces such as tenements, prisons and municipal
tunnels, is represented in SUPERMODEL by Library (1979) on loan from the
Williams College Museum of Art.
Swedish photographer Miriam Bäckström's Set Constructions, included in the
1999 Venice Biennale, explore the fictions of space in film and television.
The sets she photographs were created for cinematic use and made to be
filmed. By including the unfinished edges, structural supports and lighting
apparatus that were not meant to be seen, Bäckström's photographs show the
way such visual tricks are constructed.
Oliver Boberg's photographs of models he constructs focus on the nearly
invisible spaces and structures of everyday experience. His fictional
spaces, composites of banal architectural fragments in his home suburb of
Nuremburg, Germany, force attention back to those spaces that are usually in
the periphery of our perception.
Other artists represented in the exhibition explore simulated structures
that exist next to real architecture. German photographer Alexander
Timtschenko's photographs of Las Vegas focus on the representation of
architectural monuments and styles that transform one city into many.
Similarly, Miles Coolidge's Safetyville captures the odd relationship
between space (the physical expanse in which all things exist) and place
(particular, defined points occupied by beings, objects or phenomena).
Safetyville is a town built at 1/3 scale in California's central valley to
teach children traffic safety.
Berlin artist Thomas Demand's photographs full-scale reconstructions of
culturally significant places, such as Hitler's bunker and Jackson Pollock's
barn, alongside more everyday spaces like office buildings and public parks.
Demand makes all of his models out of paper, like the newspaper clippings
and media images that he often uses as source material.
Swiss artist Bernard Voïta takes inspiration from the everyday and turns it
into monumental architecture. His photographs show arrangements of
household and studio objects that only appear to be structures because of
the point-of-view he photographs them from. Voïta's photographs are endless
re-combinations of the elements and everyday objects that form the structure
of his daily life -- staplers and tape dispensers become towering
German artist Martin Dörbaum is the only artist in SUPERMODEL producing
entirely computer-generated images. Views of the architectural models
rendered in his computer are exposed directly on the photographic paper. In
Bar (1999), Dörbaum exposes the computer-generated model onto Polaroid film.
Heidi Specker takes a very historical view to the photography of
architecture and model-making. In House of the Photographer (1999) she
combines views of her Berlin apartment with photographs taken of models in
the Bauhaus archives and key architectural monuments copied from art history
This exhibition was organized by Elizabeth Mangini, a curatorial intern at
MASS MoCA and graduate student at the Williams College Graduate Program in
the History of Art at the Clark Art Institute. She has recently published
an article on this subject in the Austrian magazine Eikon. SUPERMODEL is the
fifth in a series of exhibitions sponsored by the Clark Art Institute in
support of the Graduate Program.