Matters of Black and White

The first time you go to Tokyo, if you were at all impressed by Blade Runner, you probably change your

The first time you go to Tokyo, if you were at all impressed by Blade Runner, you probably change your mind. Tokyoite Yuichi Higashionna is well known for working with white fluorescent lights, but what interests him isn’t the light so much as its color–harshly perfect and perfectly false–and in “Fluorescent,” at Marianne Boesky, black and white form not only the palette but the subject.

In the front room, two mobiles of black glass diamonds, though listed as separate pieces, aren’t much to look at except against a third piece, Untitled (stripes), that consists of vertical black stripes on the white gallery walls. (The stripes, made of paper tape, curl up from the floor, which sounds like Roger Rabbit but looks like Tim Burton.) Against (stripes), the mobiles present more substance, but it’s a substance that is, literally, hard to focus on. Another piece, Untitled (mirror assemblage), makes a kind of extra-long windshield out of hundreds of hand mirrors fixed together, all at slightly different angles. As you walk past it, your image breaks and flashes rapidly, but to see yourself clearly all you need to do is stand still.

In the back room are six pieces, two flat, two in the round and two in between. One painting, Untitled (st. 80-01), shows white stars in arrested, semiformalized twinkles; the other, Untitled (op. 120-02), shows black-and-white-striped circles head-splittingly offset from a black-and-white-striped background. (Science can tell us that zebras are black with white stripes, but it can’t help us here.) A diagonal grid of black rubber bands, elastic installation is about two and a half dimensions, as is Untitled (moire), an orange-lit black mesh curtain behind an oval hole. The grid, along with the star painting, is mounted over five not quite white, not quite level rolls of paper that extend across the whole back wall. The first sculpture is Fluorescent white lights installation on the wall, a column of 22 white rings, floor to ceiling, in the corner, that leave the walls looking gray. The second is Untitled (Chandelier 14), a pretty, bodice-shaped figure made of more white rings growing around a trunk of power cords. It would make the perfect storage rack for Atsuko Tanaka’s iconic Electric Dress.

Altogether it’s a portrait of the emptiness of digital black and white. The black and white of earlier ages had gray, but the opposites here aren’t really opposites because they can’t really interact. They can switch places rapidly so that their flicker creates the illusion of motion or depth, but if they aren’t finally changed, nothing finally happens. How do you make an illusory contrast? Or what do you make of it? I don’t know–it’s hard to focus on.


Downstairs from 22nd St. at Newman Popiashvili, the artist is Michael Huey, and the show “China Cupboard” is 17 photos, 16 of them color-reversed into ghostly orange and deep, unworldly blue. Mr. Huey began by making inventory snapshots of his own accumulations but then began asking friends for permission to sneak up on their dishes. They do look like candids, both because of the color reversal that exposes gray plates against police-white backgrounds, and because the apparently ad-hoc framing makes you imagine Mr. Huey hiding his camera, like Walker Evans on the subway, under his coat.

What’s not immediately clear is what kind of catalog this is. Is it a mail-order catalog? The colors are bright and appealing, and these are things you might want to buy. Is it a taxonomy, like August Sander’s, of the world we know? But then why the color reversal? To make us see what we otherwise take for granted, or, like spirit photography or an airplane scanner, what we otherwise actually can’t? Is it a taxonomy, like Bernd and Hilla Becher’s, of a world that’s dying? Nine photos are hung in a familiar grid, and the frames are almost the Bechers’ gray, but dishes are either used, or garbage, or antique–they do not, like industrial buildings, slowly superannuate. Is it a postcreative catalog, like a playlist? The only unreversed photo in the show is of a found, hand-tinted postcard of a bouquet of flowers, and playlists have attributions, but these flowers, though they must have come from somewhere, now come from nowhere but here. Or is it an archaeology–the taxonomy of a world so long dead that its death no longer moves us? The 17th, and last, photo shows a line of antique Viennese figurines. One small boy, looking out with a blue-gray face, is as alien and emotionally remote as any terra cotta soldier of Xi’an.

Matters of Black and White