Dutch artist Max Zorn got his start plastering street lamps in Amsterdam with brown packing tape. He found that with the flipping on of a lamp light, his scenes made from tape came to life. Now he works with acrylic glass plates, using a scalpel to carve out intricately detailed forms on each plate’s taped surface. He gravitates toward cinematic scenes with enigmatic characters: a swankily dressed woman exits a building marked “Sugar Club,” two well-muscled boxers swing at one another, a cluster of toothy burlesque dancers bop their feathered selves about on a stage. Recently, the Munich gallery MUCA displayed his glass plate works in the exhibition “Tales of another time.”
Zorn oscillates between additive and reductive processes, suffusing many of his works with a layered, luminous quality (which is amplified by a light placed behind each of the works during their display). In China Town Red (2015), for instance, a James Dean-like character appears at the forefront of a Chinatown scene. The filmy, sepia-toned yellows of his shirt and off-kilter hat are punctuated by a set of hanging lanterns, glowing red in the evening light. The enigmatic quality of the light is striking and uplifts the scene as a whole.
Other pieces—like Beach Day (2014), India (2014), and Coming Home (2013)—read like vacation postcards, while still infused with the same glowy atmosphere. What is represented in each work—the Taj Mahal, a beach house, a solitary man on a boat—hardly makes for original imagery, but perhaps originality is not the point. With each cut in the tape, Zorn finds a new interpretation of a familiar scene—whether it recalls a travel postcard, a work of film noir, or another cultural derivation entirely.
With its innovative use of common materials and richly colored, hazy aesthetic, Zorn’s work recalls that of Vik Muniz, particularly his series “Pictures of Chocolate” from the late 1990s. While Muniz is direct in citing where his images originated (many sources are referenced in the works’ titles), Zorn combines divergent visual references into the same composite scene, giving them his own original names.
The value of Zorn’s work is inherent in his process; there is an incredible amount of skill involved in elevating a common material like packing tape to a level of creative value, and Zorn proves to be quite successful at this.
“Tales of Another Time – Tape Art by Max Zorn” is on view at MUCA, Munich, Mar. 6 – Apr. 18, 2015.