Shotgun Review

Line of Sight

By Shotgun Reviews May 3, 2011

The title Line of Sight implies more direction than is readily available in the current Marco Breuer exhibit, part of the de Young’s Collections Connection program that opens up the museum’s permanent collection to the interpretations of contemporary artists. Breuer takes a Modernist approach to photography in his adherence to the materiality of his medium. Rather than simply document, Breuer provokes pure expressive whirls of color and patterns into existence through his treatment of photo paper. This elaboration of photography is further explored through Breuer’s incorporation of collection pieces that range from fine and decorative arts to weapons and fashion, which he treats as record keepers akin to photographs. Most of the pieces featured were pulled from the conservation department; they are items ripe with their own history, and therefore emblematic of the moment they represent.

The relationship between the two bodies of work is one of destruction and construction—both in the mark-making that measures time in Breuer’s work and in the attempts of conservation to counter the effects of time upon a collection. Lines of sight might better describe the cross directional feeling on hand, as each object seems to point out from itself into a greater pantheon of visions. A portrait of a woman in its current state of restoration blocks the sitter’s eyes and face almost entirely with tissue paper, her blocked view replicated in the room’s overall patchwork composition. Mirrors, also bandaged in tissue, are hung out of viewing height, and left to project some image unavailable to visitors. 

The gallery wall, scrolled with a conservator’s vocabulary of condition and the Max Frisch quote, “What is important is what cannot be said, the white space between the words,” implores viewers to consider the nature of exhibition practice, and all that is left out when an object is on display.

Untitled (Study of Tremors), 2000; silver gelatin paper, burned; 18 x 14 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and de Young Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco.

His selection of only eighteenth- and nineteenth-century objects points to the origins of the encyclopedic museum’s use of object and display to reflect a totality and superiority of universal understanding. Circles drilled into the wall quite literally poke holes in this approach to museum practice. Taken out of context and dropped into Breuer’s regimentally incoherent space, the artwork appears to be at odds with the order and purity it once represented, and furthers Breuer’s redistribution of standard art world practice.



Line of Sight is on view at the de Young Museum, in San Francisco, through October 2, 2011.



Kathryn McKinney has recently completed a B.A. in art history at San Francisco State University, and currently lives and works as a gallery professional in San Francisco. 

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