Two Photographers Who’ve Seen the Future

On the evening of March 16, Todd Eberle and Robert Polidori flanked the entrance to the Robert Miller Gallery, at 41 East 57th Street, where they welcomed guests to the opening of Two Visions Brasília , a photographic study of Brasília, the monument to modernist architecture in the center of Brazil.

“Look, this was not a collaboration,” Mr. Polidori said pointedly. “We did not work together.”

The two photographers are an odd couple. Mr. Eberle, 35, is a tall, enthusiastic man who has a wholesome, all-American quality that is reflected in his unabashed love of classicism and clean forms. Mr. Polidori, 48, is a Canadian born of a French Canadian mother and Corsican father; he has a deep gravelly voice and an affinity for the nacreous beauty of antiquity and ancient ruins. The two men met while on assignment in Bilbao, Spain, to photograph the Frank Gehry-designed branch of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Mr. Eberle for Vanity Fair , Mr. Polidori for The New Yorker . In February 1998, Olivier Renaud-Clément, the Miller Gallery’s director of photography, cooked up the idea of giving them the same assignment again: to photograph Brasília for an exhibition. Both photographers are represented by the Miller Gallery.

Brasília was built in the 1950′s in a red dirt savanna away from the populated coastal areas of Brazil, based on the designs of Lúcio Costa, an urban planner, and Oscar Niemeyer, one of the greatest modern architects. “Because of the various responses you get from people when you mention Brasília, I thought it would be interesting to ask two different people and see what would happen,” said Mr. Renaud-Clément.

Why would one gallery pit two of its own talents against one another? “People are afraid of confrontation,” said Mr. Renaud-Clément. “There is nothing bad about it.” He has worked with Mr. Polidori for 11 years. This is his first exhibition with Mr. Eberle.

Most of the residents of Brasília were in Rio for the carnival season when Mr. Eberle arrived with Mr. Renaud-Clément last year. “The place had an eerie absence of people,” said Mr. Eberle. He capitalized on the emptiness in his photographs, which show the president’s palace and other structures in the capital as a series of abstract shapes and forms. There was a time when the capital was actually shut down and the government was moved to Rio. Judging from the photographs, it still feels like a movie set that has long been abandoned.

Mr. Polidori also had to try to find traces of civilization for his photographs–three of which appeared in the March 8 issue of The New Yorker with an article by Paul Goldberger. “I usually like things more baroque, but I keep an open mind. I liked Brasília,” said Mr. Polidori. “They tried out some new ideas there.” In several of the photographs there are air-conditioners that have broken the clean modernist lines of the buildings and there are several images of dusty alleys and paths.

“I sort of feel that the future ended in 1972,” said Mr. Polidori. “I am not a firm believer that the future is always great.” He argued that Brasília’s own architect, who is still working in his 90′s, does not inhabit his designed city. “He lives in an 18th-century mansion in Rio!” he said. “He doesn’t live in any modern place. Modern architects want this total art concept. People don’t live in concepts.”

Mr. Polidori also found the climate downright inhospitable. “Red dust got in my nose. I got pneumonia,” he said. “It gave me throat aches. It has an acidic soil and a very hot climate. Those people are putting on air-conditioners so they are not croaking from the heat.”

One outcome of the Miller Gallery’s experiment is that the photographers have become, if not friends, at least respected colleagues.

“I have a great deal of respect for Robert’s work,” said Mr. Eberle.

“I think he’s a very good photographer,” said Mr. Polidori.

American Artist in Rome

Like many other New York conceptual artists from the 1970′s, Joseph Kosuth, 54, has found a ready market for his ideas in the European capitals where there is still a great deal of subsidization of art. Although he maintains a studio in New York and is one of Leo Castelli’s loyalist artists, he has been spending most of his time in Rome, where his two daughters are in school. On March 8, an installation by Mr. Kosuth, titled Conditions of Absence (The Name and the Bearer of the Name, for G) , opened at the Villa Medici in Rome.

The Villa Medici, built for Fernando de’ Medici, is like a small city within Rome. Mr. Kosuth chose to illuminate the niches where de’ Medici kept his collection of art and to light up the skeleton of a woman who died 800 years ago and was buried on the villa grounds. The installation, which is on view until April 21, has been photographed for the May issue of Italian Vogue , and will be familiar in spirit to the show Mr. Kosuth had in 1997 at Sean Kelly Gallery in SoHo and his 1990 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.