“Nowhere Near,” 2009

Nowhere Near is an exploration of the various ways in which artists have questioned the experience and understanding of place. What is topos or the idea of topography as it applies to art? Through my curatorial selection, the viewer is invited to consider the topography of the artists’ mind as they first envision their work, thereby giving evidence to something nonexistent; the idea of topography within an image itself; and the topography of the ubiquitous—of that existing, common place that the artist turns alien through depiction or abstraction. So often, it seems, the artist presents a cerebral vision of a place nowhere near.

In my first language, German, the word for place is Ort. A related verb is verorten, which can best be translated as mapping or locating. Verorten is the attempt to assign a place to something or the attempt to place something within a context that is meaningful to our mind. The artistic investigation of Ort, or in Greek, topos, can arrive at countless conclusions or lead us nowhere.

The artistic practice of creating imagery of places that do not exist in reality applies above all to painting and drawing—the original art of illusion. Installation art and digitally rendered imaging also belong to this group. The works of Vija Celmins, Liz Larner, Robert Longo, Georgia O’Keefe, and Hiraki Sawa propose a topos envisioned by the artist prepared to be invaded by our minds. Through viewing, we inhabit these illusions, continuing the path of imagination prepared and set forth by the artist.

The idea of topography within an image or the exploration of the geography of a transitional and temporal place can be seen in the work Airport by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. We are presented with an intangible situation that existed only for that short moment while it was being seen by the two artists. This momentary place is now fixed into imagery. While once it was real, it now exists as topographical memory.

The most obvious images, those that can be mistaken for an objectified document, often convey a bleakness and cold solitude that is daring to look at, triggering different idiosyncratic responses in each individual. Thomas Ruff’s image of Haus Nr. 12 IIIA arrests me as if inside a time tunnel that is equally absolute and impossible to escape, freezing a moment of desolate culture that is hard to endure. Thomas Struth’s metropolitan cityscape, Dallas Parking Lot, provides a similar yet more cosmopolitan and international experience.

Meditations of light and darkness, like the Sugimoto seascapes, or the framed section of sky and sea in Luigi Ghirri’s Marina di Ravenna, are all renderings of how these artists see a location that actually exists in reality but by means of their depiction isolate it into something entirely new.

The topography of suspense is also a part of my investigation. While the artists try to assign, investigate, create, or alter places, the works still leave us the notion that something may not have a place or is in-place-able; that is, something that only exists in our imagination. Each artwork has a tenuous path by which we can trace its root to reality before we get lost in suspense.

Most often I find that art raises questions instead of giving answers and we are either left in suspense with the question that imposes doubt or forced to find an answer ourselves. More often than not, we are left with more questions still.

Vera Lutter
New York, 2009