Thomas Ruff Takes Gagosian Out Of This World

Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff: ma.r.s. and nudes @ Gagosian Gallery – REVIEW

The two exhibitions at the London Gagosian galleries consist entirely of photographs. But to say that Thomsas Ruff is a photographer seems disingenuous, as the original images for the works are in fact found objects appropriated by the artist for a new purpose and given new life. 

Ruff’s new and recent works are displayed as two related shows: ‘ma.r.s.’ is at the Britannia Street gallery and ‘nudes’ is at the Davies Street location.  ma.r.s. is the more substantial of the two shows, and contains works from three different series of work. The main gallery houses astronomical photographs of the Martian landscape, though this is not initially apparent as the so-called ‘red planet’ is depicted in a variety of hues, resembling abstract watercolour paintings perhaps more than planetary geography.  The monumental photographs, sourced from NASA’s website, are transformed by Ruff’s hand and the change of context – images originally gathered for scientific inquiry become objects to be valued aesthetically and seen in the realm of art.

The theme of astronomy is not new to Ruff’s artistic career, but in this exhibition, he newly experiments with 3D imaging.  A side gallery contains additional photographs of the terrain of Mars, to be viewed with the 3D glasses provided. But without the glasses the works resemble expressionistic paintings with intense impasto. And, in a moment of mild and quiet rebellion, I placed the ‘left eye’ red lens and ‘right eye’ green lens on the opposite eye, and, to my surprise, the Martian landscape was transformed once again: the concave craters became convex and large hills became threatening crevasses.  These works seem to invite experimentation and exploration of this kind from the viewers, much as the originals would inspire science-minded individuals.

In the Martian photographs topographies become something different; it is as though Ruff is seeking simultaneously to make the strange familiar by recalling landscapes and abstract works but also making the strange even stranger by distorting the clarity of the subject matter. The latter he formally achieves by taking photographs from the internet that could be recognizable and familiar, but manipulating them into something unknown, unrecognizable.

The photographs in the both the nudes  and ma.r.s. are photographs enlarged as far as possible to create intense pixilation. For the average person, discovering that an image does not have a high enough resolution can be a bother; but in an art gallery, with glossy surfaces and pristine framing, the pixilation is almost infuriating.  Through this distortion, however, Ruff forces the viewers to examine the work both at a distance and from a closer vantage point, as near the image the colours of the pixels can be seen individually, whereas from further away the original ‘whole’ subject becomes discernible.  At the Davies Street gallery, the nudes displayed are pornographic in origin. The subject is a bit crass though not unfamiliar in the history of art, and while the large scale of the works increases the prominence of the women in the gallery space, the distortion of the image robs them of their individuality. It also has the effect of curbing the originally-intended eroticism by taking pixilated censoring to a new extreme.

Thomas Ruff’s first exhibition in the Gagosian Gallery is certainly impactful.  The varied subject matter shifts the viewer from earth to space, stimulating the imagination and encouraging viewers to look and question. Words: Emily Sack © 2012 ArtLyst


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