Exhibit's focus: the big picture


Wim Wenders' spectacular image of the Australian outback, on view at C. Grimaldis Gallery, presents an enormous panorama of rust-colored rock, jagged mountains and pale-blue sky 6 feet tall and more than 14 feet long - a picture so large it nearly fills an entire wall of the gallery.

Only a few years ago, such a gargantuan image would have been a rarity - indeed, a near physical impossibility - for most photography shows, where the idea of big used to be anything larger than 8-by-10 inches.

Today, of course, Wenders' piece seems rather modest in scale compared to the truly humongous photographs of German photographers such as Andreas Gursky, Elger Esser and Thomas Demand. Wenders, a film director as well as a photographer, works on a cinematic scale, but his pictures are still far from the largest being exhibited these days.

Grimaldis' exhibition, titled Through the Lens, presents 12 images by four photographers - Wenders, Dimitra Lazaridou, Lorna Bieber and Yannick Demmerle - all of whom work on an expansive scale as a matter of course. For these artists, the size of the photographs is as much a part of their meaning as their subject matter.

Lazaridou had a one-woman show of her minimalist urban landscapes at Grimaldis in 2003, and several of the pictures in this exhibition have appeared previously in solo or group shows.

At approximately 4-by-5-feet in size, her works are by no means the largest images on view, but they reveal the Greek-born artist to be by far the most inventive colorist of the group, an artist whose subtle tones and skillful use of natural light give her images great emotional intensity.

Demmerle and Bieber are both new to Grimaldis, and their large-scale pictures bring a different, more adventurous twist to what, for want of a better name, might be called the Big Picture style.

Bieber appropriates existing photographs in the tradition of Richard Prince, who re-photographed images from commercial advertisements - one of his favorite subjects was the Marlboro Man - as a way of exploring how masculine identity is constructed.

Bieber re-photographs found images of architecture from 1950s-era stock photos and catalog illustrations, then manipulates their focus and contrast - either by hand or digitally - before enlarging them to mural-size scale.

She floats her large black-and-white prints in frames that allow the photo paper to curl and bend against the mount. The procedure emphasizes the eerie familiarity of the images while at the same time conveying an impression of mysterious, haunted space.

Demmerle's massively scaled images of trees were made during an extended visit to the forest of Pommern in Germany, where he lived in the woods for eight weeks last summer.

His large photographs mounted behind Plexiglas present the silvery tree trunks against the dark background of the forest, which produces a striking effect: Because the dark background works like a mirror for viewers standing in front of the image, the piece creates the illusion that the spectator is actually situated among the trees.

This unexpected effect is only possible because of the nearly identical relative sizes of the trees in the image - nearly 5 feet tall - and the viewer's reflection on its mirror-like surface. It's an example of how the extremely large scale of the piece actually enhances its meaning as well as its visual impact.

The recent trend toward very-large-scale photographs is one of the more interesting developments in the art world currently. It suggests that one reads these images quite differently from the way one looks at conventional photographs, and that their making requires more than simply blowing up an ordinary picture to mural-scale proportions.

A picture that works well on a normal scale may look merely pretentious when enlarged to the size of an abstract-expressionist painting.

By the same token, the large-scale works shrink into seeming insignificance when their scale is reduced, as they are, for example, in the reproductions that appear with this article.

The gigantic images by a photographer like Gursky become unreadable when reduced in size below a certain threshold, which is why the Grimaldis show must be seen in person to fully appreciate its novel beauties.

The exhibit opens tomorrow and runs through Feb. 26. The gallery is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 410-539-1080 or visit the Web site at www.cgrimaldis gallery.com.

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