Deconstructing Illusion

Deconstructing Illusion

Taken from the New York-based collection of Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla, and curated by the Musée de l’Elysée, Paris, this investigation of the development of the photographic line through two centuries, which was previously seen in Lausanne, comes to La Propriété Caillebotte, once the home of Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte.

The starting point is the illusion that forms the basis of experiencing photography, and of today’s screen-based image culture: the way in which even the most discerning viewer can easily forget that they are looking at a two dimensional surface. They are drawn into the seeming depth of a picture, to the details of the landscape, the subject of a portrait. The show aims to highlight the line as the basis of composition, which makes possible the mimetic illusion of three dimensions, and how artists have understood this within their practices. Henri Cartier-Bresson, for example, spoke of “the instantaneous lines made by movements of the subject” with which the artist must work, in unison with the subject, to capture the point when all elements come into equilibrium.

In its curation, The Beauty of Lines creates juxtapositions between diverse works, which, though they may be far separated by time and geography, reveal unexpected echoes and resonances of form and structure. The featured visionaries include Cig Harvey, Berenice Abbott, Eugène Atget, Robert Adams, Walker Evans, Vik Muniz, Man Ray and Lee Friedlander.

Amongst the thematic sections is a study of what the straight line can do – whether it is controlled and strictly parallel, or takes on a seemingly more spontaneous form, as demonstrated through work by Stéphane Couturier, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Lewis Baltz, amongst others. Within this section, audiences are invited to consider the lines of force within images. For example, in pieces by Couturier, the dynamic vertical and horizontal perspectives and strong lighting effects express the opposing cycles of construction and demolition in the modern urban landscapes, resulting in compositions that suggest both a lack of control, and a state of precise harmony.

Curves, meanwhile, are the essential element in representing and recognising the human form in all its complexity. Pictures by the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe, Edward Weston and Léon Levinstein emphasise how the curve defines both male and female bodies – along with a sense of intimacy and fluidity between the two. Finally, the exhibition leaves any idea of representation of the real world behind and moves into the sphere of pure abstraction through work by Minor White, Ray Metzker and Harry Callahan. For Aaron Siskind, straight photography crosses into the realm of abstraction simply by focusing in tightly on details which, though originally taken from nature, architecture or the street, lose the context of the original subject in order to reveal a world which is composed of form, texture and, crucially, the line.

La Propriété Caillebotte, Yerres, France. Until 2 December. Find out more here.

1. Cig Harvey (1973, United Kingdom), The Pale Yellow Cadillac, Sadie, Portland, Maine, 2010. © Cig Harvey.