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June 23 – August 11, 2007

Nudes and Buildings/Body Parts and Building Parts

by Professor Carl Safe
The Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts
Washington University in St. Louis

BODY/ BUILDING is the work of two accomplished photographers who focus on radically different subject matter with similar sensibilities. The work of both is about structure and relationships, in literal, figurative and poetic terms. Their work is built on the broad and strong tradition of using the human form and the form of the built environment to document who we are. The work is designed to intentionally encourage us to see in ways that we are not used to seeing. They challenge us to more clearly understand who we are and what we value. In the process we will be required to reassess our own sensibilities. Like many artful endeavors, their work can be provocative and for some, may even offend.

Both are reductivists, inclined to represent just enough so that we are encouraged/obliged to imagine the rest: the rest of the building, the rest of the body, but most importantly, the rest of the story.

We have been exploring the structure of the human body and the structure of buildings for a very long time and we have been trying to represent them for just as long.

In many instances, representations have been combined. Nude figures, male and female, have adorned buildings in almost every culture since antiquity, often in explicitly provocative ways. Indian temples, classical sculpture and painting are dense with images that assault the puritan ethic.

We have also been on a continuous search to (re)define the ideal for both; body, building and relationships. Those ideals have evolved from culture to culture and from epoch to epoch. In western culture, we study the Greek ideal, the Roman ideal, the ideal of the Renaissance and on through modernity. The historic ideals are substantively different from one another, but we have tended not to be too discriminating and seem to be willing to "mix and match" at will. We romanticize those antecedents and are still inclined to copy them rather than develop contemporary standards that would have the potential to serve as precedents for future generations. Palmer and Konchel are proposing that there are new ideals, new relationships and new possibilities.

The idea of combining the work of these two artists is a bit provocative itself. I presume that was Philip Hitchcock's intention as the curator of the show. What could the edges, intersecting forms, sculpted shapes, patterns, textures and rhythms of building segments have to do with the edges, intersecting forms, sculpted shapes, textures and rhythms of the male body? The subject matter could not be much more widely disparate.

Konchel's work is intentionally abstract, coolly appealing to our intellect and requiring us to make associations based on a sense of compositional propriety. Architecture is structural by definition. With few notable exceptions, it is defined by hard, linear, machined edges. The poetic power of Konchel's work is directly related to his skill in selecting critical relationships between these components. He has no interest in telling us the whole story. The images are strategically (surgically) selected to capture intersections, assemblies, rhythms and patterns that are critical to the essence of the object or place. If we want to know more, it is our job to embellish, extrapolate or imagine the larger construct from which these fragments have been appropriated. Some beg for that elaboration while others are content to be appreciated as resolute compositions in their own terms, confident in their boundaries. All depend on timing and relationships; the right moment for light, shadow and shade to reveal the essence of a story to which we have been given the preamble. While his technical skills are obvious and important, as an artist, Konchel's strength is in knowing where to stop.

Palmer's work is intentionally and provocatively representational, aimed directly at our sensual selves. His images challenge us to accept not just the abstraction of a beautiful new male ideal but also the reality that those males enjoy the same passionate relationships that straight culture has been inclined to reserve for itself. His work celebrates both the ideal as an abstraction and the relationships as a reality. The images are provocative not because the individuals are beautiful male nudes. They are. They are provocative, and aggressively so, because of the relationships and references they suggest are unabashedly carnal, suspiciously religious and amorphously abstract. This is not accidental. Palmer is a photographer with a point of view and he intends to share it, assaulting the absurdities of a society that is discomforted by homoerotic possibilities while at the same time celebrating Victoria's Secret as a television show.

Palmer's work demonstrates his ability to capture the seemingly unscripted moment and a studiously posed composition with equal sensitivity. Both the objects and the relationships are beautiful but the possibilities they represent are more beautiful still.

Philip Hitchcock has assembled a beautiful collection of images that engage and challenge the viewer from many perspectives. As mentioned earlier, the work of these two artists can be seen as representing different ends of a continuum, but it is a continuum. One is politically dispassionate, intellectual, sensitive to line and geometry and demanding an ineffable compositional clarity in the relationships he captures. The other is culturally provocative, emotional, intimate, aggressively sensual and sensitive to the curve of organic form. In juxtaposing their work, Hitchcock has given us a collection of the three things that we value most, our bodies, our buildings and our relationships.

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