Lewis Baltz with works by Carl Andre and Charlotte Posenenske
- Neil Cooper
- 6 May 2016
The overlooked effects of industrial civilization on the landscape are captured by pioneering American landscape photographer and his Minimalist peers
The word 'Ideal' (1970) forms the title of a key image by the late American photographer Lewis Baltz in ‘The Prototype Works’ (1967-76), one of three series of images seen in parallel with two text-based pieces by Carl Andre and a sculptural construction by Charlotte Poseneske. Framed in close-up monochrome as one of ten prints taken from this early selection, the elaborate music-hall turn of a font that beams out from 'Ideal' also points to the false optimism of post World War Two suburbia that never quite delivered.
As a prime mover in the New Topographics wave of 1970s landscape photography, Baltz captured the built-in obsolescence of the Californian desert once its untamed public space was co-opted and domesticated by developers across the decades. If ‘The Prototype Works’ show off worlds already inhabited but destined to be gentrified, fetishised and restyled as 'vintage', the thirty-three images of ‘Park City’ (1979) show half-built ideal homes sitting unoccupied beside mountains of rubble.
A decade later, ‘Candlestick Point’ (1989) tracks what at first glance looks like a seemingly unspoilt idyll, before a far-off flat-pack city emerges beyond the telegraph poles and dumping ground of old tyres. Viewed side-by-side like a cartoon strip or flick-book stills, such wide open spaces frozen between moments in motion resembles the panoramas of Wim Wenders or Michelangelo Antonioni.
Andre's ‘One Hundred Sonnets, BIRD’ and ‘One Hundred Sonnets, TREE’ (both 1963) are concentrated concrete impressions of their subject, while Poseneske's ‘Vierkantrohre Serie D’ (1967-2014) is a wilfully functionless steel air-shaft-like arrangement that comes from and goes nowhere. Like the silver tiles of Andre's ‘Aluminium Sum Ten’ (2003), which grows grubby from being walked on, it is designed to be taken apart and reassembled, so, like the bare patches of scrubland in Baltz's images, the wear and tear traces of humanity make their mark.
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