Until 15 June 2003. Hyper realism was based on new techniques of using photography for painting. Of course the Impressionists had already employed it for a new view point, stimulus or crutch in the late 19th century. But in the late 1960s in New York the close-up, sharp focus, double perspective, arbitrary cropping, even airbrush instead of the regular brush, suddenly became fashionable devices. Perhaps the hyper realists or photo realists hunger for precision and hard visual facts was due to a reaction against the limitless and romantic paint-freedom of the abstract expressionists and the merciless bite of the irreverent pop artists before them.
Some of the big bold works of the hyper realists, most of them trained at East Coast universities, were shown in the Medusa gallery in Rome in the 1970s, and in Germany too they were gobbled up, so ideally did they fit into the European conception of flamboyant, ruthlessly commercial America. Both in Rome and Germany they then had the merit of novelty too. In New York they were gradually absorbed by Soho emporiums where they are still aired to this day. However, such intelligent exceptions as Chuck Close, who actually developed Process Art, and Richard Estes, eventually graduated to elite galleries which serve art as well as commerce.
How Estes is able to explore the photo-realist style, how he is able to stretch views to sparkling, never-before-seen depths of perspective, is shown quite spectacularly in this exhibition. His 1989 vista of Manhattan from aboard the Staten Island ferry has got to be the most haunting, or the only haunting, picture in this assembly, despite its typical spick and span cleanliness.
But here this whole puritan show of muscle couldnt have come at a worse moment, when some American values are in doubt the world over. The sheen and glitter of mechanical inhuman surfaces, the clutter of metal, glass and cement, is overblown and stretched under empty chilly skies. All is sharp and relentlessly gleaming, without a trace of the funk of real daily life. This work about surface, already plodding in its own time, now appears too brittle, and rusty underneath. Edith Schloss.
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