Vacancy and claustrophobia

Pub date September 30, 2008
WriterAri Messer
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

REVIEW Matthias Hoch’s disconcerting skill as a photographer is connected to a pair of paradoxes. His close-ups of the byproducts of "moderne" European cities and suburbs, from geometric ceilings to business parks, feel like panoramas. In his wider shots — of large concrete grids, or one otherwise "perfect" building’s sad slant — claustrophobia and a sense of vacancy commingle. The German artist’s new work on display at Rena Bransten Gallery focuses on Almere and Rotterdam, cities in the Netherlands that don’t have the touristy resonance of Amsterdam or the Hague.

I wonder what Carl Jung would have said about modernity’s strange architectural sprawl. Are we growing a new set of archetypes? Hoch’s latest photographs provide one answer: a sense that nothing has changed. Rotterdam #20 and #24 (both 2007) are like an overmanicured zen garden in a bad dream. The bent green lighting in Almere #11 (2007) recalls the tarot suit of Swords, representative of overthinking. If you stare long enough, the fluttering white shape on what looks like fake grass in Rotterdam #26 (2007) becomes the foot of a Buddhist statue, about to lift.

Almere #1, Almere #2 brings together two engrossing short videos. In the second, the thick black pipes of a parking structure are as lively as the worm-things in 1990’s Tremors. In the first, the shifting textures of light in reflective/refractive glass become a wide-sweeping eternal dawn. Like Hoch’s photographs, these videos are ultimately pictures of good-byes. When I left the show, I could hear one of my personal favorites — Lou Reed and John Cale’s melancholic adios to Andy Warhol, "Hello, It’s Me" — in my head. I couldn’t help thinking that Hoch’s timely pictures would have looked great in even bigger prints on the walls of the once silver, now defunct Factory.

MATTHIAS HOCH: NEW WORK Through Oct. 11. Tues.–Fri., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Rena Bransten Gallery, 77 Geary St, SF. (415) 982-3292,