Angela Grauerholz – Jennifer Couëlle

[Summer 1995]

Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
January 27 to April 23, 1995

Expectations arc necessarily high for internationally recognized artists like Angela Grauerholz. High, and not always easy to meet. While the body of work of an artist should not be judged by any single exhibition, retrospectives excepted, certain exhibitions can be of disservice to artists and, perhaps more particularly, to those who have a reputation to sustain. Indeed, it is somewhat disconcerting not to be more enthused about the work of an artist whose photographs have been included in such events as Kassel’s Documenta (1992), or that have been presented by such museums as Ljubljana’s Museum of Modern Art, in Slovenia (1994) and Kyoto’s National Museum of Modern Art (1995) – not to mention that the present exhibition of Grauerholz’s work is being shown in Canada’s sole museum of contemporary art.

Aside from the few photographs that find their strength in the structural elements of formal composition – such as the fleeting perspective and disproportionate sense of space in the image of two men pondering in the shadow of wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor bookshelves, the geometrical and spatial interplay in the subdued and sombre photograph of a museum interior, or the striking contrast between blacks and whites in the almost humorous image of a yin and yang-shaped couple, nestled together on a beach of gravel – the 33 prints in this exhibition (most of them in colour) do little more than impress upon us a never-ending, indistinct blur – an atmospheric haze without the atmosphere. Rather than inciting us to reflect further upon the mundane aspect of their subjects (landscapes, interiors, occurrences, or figures with faces turned away), these images, purposefully devoid of tangible points of reference, leave us in want of an antidote to the banal. Could it be that 33 portrayals, no matter how astute, of ordinary subject matter treated with unforgiving alienation is simply too many? Could it be that the underlying tension proper to the quality of irresolution (both figurative and literal) in Grauerholz’s work is lost in its very multiplication? Is it that the ordinary and the unassuming can be validated, and therefore appreciated, in small doses only? Have we not reached a standstill in History where meaning has become scarce and, therefore, crucial? But then again, as implied in these overtly “open” and unrestricted photographs, each to his or her own interpretation.