Altered States

Exploded paintings. Shattered flowers. Fragmented images. London-based Israeli artist Ori Gersht (b.1967) is best known for destroying painstakingly recreated versions of classical paintings on camera. The latest show at New York’s Yancey Richardson Gallery presents two such series, combining simulations of historical works with high-powered digital photography. The result is Altered States: an exhibition exploring concepts of time, truth and value.

Gersht’s most recent body of work, Becoming, draws on postcards from some of the world’s most renowned collections: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Carefully arranged and printed onto sheets of glass, the compositions mimic traditional postcard displays ­– the kind we might browse in a gallery gift shop.

But that’s not where the story ends. As the gallery describes, “order cedes to chaos” when each wall is methodically shattered. Wall 01, for example, presents over 200 postcards from the Met. Pivotal historical works from the 16th-19th centuries collapse in front of the camera – preserving the moment of destruction forever. It’s possible to read this as a comment on established art historical canons and traditions. For Gersht, the series is also deeply personal. “This is about my own existence — an understanding that eventually, as soon as I let go of order, my life will pass away. In all my work there is a tension between a desire to hold on to something, to have some form of eternal assurance — and then a submission to the ephemeral, to the awareness that things fall apart.”

Elsewhere in the show is the series On Reflection, in which Gersht turns his attention to three 17th century floral paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder. The painter depicted bouquets of flowers which were impossible in nature; they contained buds which bloomed at different times and in disparate locations. “All the flowers were cultivated,” Gersht tells Aesthetica. “They could not exist without human intervention.”

Flowers are a recurring motif in the artist’s wider oeuvre. “We all have an immediate connection with them,” he says. “We connect them to Valentine’s Day, but we also connect them to memorials and graves – they relate to such a broad range of our emotional experiences. From the very early days until now, flowers have always played a significant part in our artistic visual presentation. There are so many ideas that can be played out in a very subtle way through flowers: historical, political and ideological questions. They can all be hidden behind the formal beauty of these delicate creatures.”

Ori Gersht, Altered States, is at Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, until 23 December.

Find out more here.

All images courtesy Ori Gersht and Yancey Richardson Gallery.
1. Still Life 01 (Rijksmuseum), 2021
2. Flower 05 (Rijksmuseum), 2021
3. Flower 06 (Rijksmuseum), 2021
4. Flower 04 (Rijksmuseum), 2021
5. Flower 02 (Rijksmuseum), 2021