Christopher Williams at David Zwirner Gallery
Christopher Williams is an artist who declares he is not interested in creation or self-expression. The conceptual artist and photographer is solely concerned with ideas and research and leaves the analysing and explaining of work to others.
The Upcoming was treated to the artist giving a talk about his exhibition in the gallery, revealing the thinking behind his images – the themes of Cold War Germany from the 50s to the 80s, and what can be extrapolated about society from camera manuals, industrial technology and issues of hygiene at a time when soap was a luxury product.
For Example is drawn from continuing work over the past decade on similar themes. As photography the production is excellent, the detail revealing more the closer you look. As an exhibition it is has a less coherent feel without one unifying idea, and reads more as a selection of recent works.
With no titles or explanation within the gallery, the exhibition is difficult to decipher without the artist there filling in the back stories. The cameras shown in photographs, recreating images from their manuals, are unusually left-handed, but it takes pointing out to notice. Highly staged, these photos mimic instruction manuals, and manage to draw visual parallels between the fingers and the camera mechanisms.
Nominated last year in London for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2012, Williams is a big name on the international art scene, part of a second wave of conceptual artists to emerge in America in the 70s. His work examines photography by considering how photography objectifies anything in front of a camera, and by looking at cameras themselves, including dissected lenses: “Sometimes you can only appreciate beauty by cutting something in half.”
His photographs have layers of meaning – images of shop units are displaying the vehicle for displaying, and so on. Williams’s art benefits from mediation and explanation, and much of the concept is lost in looking at the imagery alone. It’s interesting work and there are interesting ideas, but you do have to read up about it to know what you are looking at.
Christopher Williams: For Example is at David Zwirner Gallery until 15th June 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.