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GRANT MUDFORD

November 23, 2002 - January 4, 2003 at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica

by Mario Cutajar




“Walt Disney Concert Hall, Under
Construction #2,” 2002, chromogenic
print mounted on cintra, 48 x 60 1/2".






“Walt Disney Concert Hall, Under
Construction #5,” 2002, chromogenic
print mounted on cintra, 48 x 60 1/2".





“Walt Disney Concert Hall, Under
Construction #1,” 2002, chromogenic
print mounted on cintra, 48 x 60 1/2".





“Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati,
Under Construction." 2002, chromogenic
print mounted on cintra, 48 x 60 1/2".

Looking at Grant Mudford's large format photographs of the Walt Disney Concert Hall under construction, you can't help coming away thinking how interesting contemporary buildings are in their unfinished state, moreso than before their innards are sealed up and they become the slick, reticent facades of money and power. Mudford has been photographically documenting construction sites, often on commission, for close to two decades. Among his notable series are those devoted to Parliament House, Canberra, Australia; a hospital emergency room; and Our Lady of the Angels cathedral. His most recent series focuses on the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall going up just down the street from Our Lady. Ten of the prints are on display here.

Frank Gehry's virtuosic essay in cubofuturist form--architecture as sculpture--is a particularly fitting subject for a photographer who uses photography as an abstract medium. Construction sites in general offer the pho-tographer an almost infinite variety of volumes and textures to play with. Tackling the Disney Hall site adds the extra dimension of dealing with a building whose self-consciously flamboyant form keys up the artificiality of the façade, and gives the photographer the opportunity to draw a closer parallel between the building activity documented and the photograph itself as a construction: the photograph as façade.

Mudford has long held that photographs are "excellent liars." So for him the explicitness of the frame is paramount. Looking at a Mudford photograph, you are always aware that what's on display has been deliberately isolated and composed. In the Disney Hall photographs, as in his photographs in general, the site is invariably depopulated, making the scale ambiguous. In those photographs that collage parts of the rising hall against a backdrop of the downtown skyline, the edges of the picture are expressly determined by the requirements of the composition, not those of "information." With no scale markers, no tilting of the camera in any direction, and no foreground, Mudford's images are as flat as abstract paintings. The effect is accentuated by the unfinished state of the structures, which sometimes are chopped off just where they approach the picture plane, almost as if the picture plane was some kind of guillotine that truncated anything that might project out of it (Disney #2). In photographs of the interior scaffolding, forests of slender, red pipe supports create delicate web patterns that entangle the eye and keep it from straying beyond the surface. These are the most overtly "painterly" photographs in the series.


The images from the Disney Hall series don't transmit any overt critical or political messages. Mostly they function as rigorous abstract images even as they tweak the notion of photographic documentation. And yet, one can't help but think that an extended fascination with the materials and processes of building, as opposed to a fascination with the glamorized finished product, implies a certain sympathy for the humble. This seems particularly evident in a photograph of a section of the façade of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. The focus is on some plastic sheets draped over a terrace and the stain-like shadows they cast on the concrete. The sheets become stand-ins for the paintings that will hang in the Arts Center when it's finished, but their placement is entirely accidental and evanescent. The art is in the noticing.