Despite working in different time periods, on different sides of the Atlantic, and with different media, American photographer Lee Friedlander and French painter Pierre Bonnard were both deeply absorbed by the issue of representing landscapes. For the first time, the works of this historically disconnected duo are juxtaposed in “Lee Friedlander & Pierre Bonnard: Photographs & Drawings,” currently on view at Pace/MacGill, where Friedlander’s large-scale gelatin silver prints are placed alongside Bonnard’s expressive sketches.
Perhaps better known for his cityscapes, contemporary photographer Friedlander began to document landscapes throughout the western United States after he acquired a Hasselblad Superwide—a camera known for its ultra-sharp, distortion-free lens. This medium-format device allowed him to capture the complexity of the natural world. And while the camera’s square frame neatly crops portions of his chosen vistas, what strikes you when viewing these highly detailed images is their vastness. Within a small fragment of landscape—between infinitely nuanced variations of light and shadow on blades of grass and webs of knotted branches—it seems that Friedlander has contained the whole universe.
Bonnard’s small sketches from the early 20th century took the opposite tack, zooming out on landscapes. Using a language of diverse marks—frenetic hatches, undulating lines, spatters of dashes—he captured the atmosphere and energy of the natural environments that surrounded him. Sketches were integral to Bonnard’s process; they were the only references he used when otherwise painting from memory. The impulse to record with pen and pencil came from his understanding of an artist as one whose vision is “mobile” and “variable.” He pointed out the difference in scope between drawing and photography when he said: “The lens records unnecessary lights and shadows, but the artist’s eyes add human values to objects and reproduce them as seen through human eyes.”
At Pace/MacGill, Friedlander’s and Bonnard’s works are hung together, often alternating between the two artists. This syncopated layout—three larger-scale Friedlanders lead into a small Bonnard, another Bonnard is bookended by two Friedlanders—telescopes in and out of the natural world. Installed together, Friedlander’s intricate briars and Bonnard’s loose hillsides and treescapes form an expansive study of landscape where both artists have distilled nature’s magnitude into networks of energetic, interconnected lines.
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