These flowers aren’t just any flowers. The particular arrangements employed were lifted from a series of early 17th-century floral paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder. Gersht, a London-based artist, casts a critical eye on both Brueghel’s work and the gilded city of Vienna, Austria, where the Flemish master’s paintings can be found, in the permanent collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Brueghel’s works are lush and decadent, decorative, sensual, and almost over-the-top—a reflection of an imperial era. In “On Reflection,” Gersht seems to draw a parallel between that age of excess and our current time.
Gersht’s idea is to question how real life—thorns and all, so to speak—can be translated through painting and photography. To that end, he employs a highly original and complex technique. First, he recreates one of Brueghel’s floral arrangements using silk flowers, and places the replica in front of a mirror. Then, he administers electrical charges to the mirror, prompting an explosion of glass shards. With large-format digital cameras, Gersht photographs the event and captures the scene from two different angles: one camera focuses on the surface of the mirror, the other is set farther away to focus on the vase of flowers reflected in the mirror.
By capturing these volatile moments in this way, Gersht prompts questions in the viewer, including what is real? Can a single account of any event ever be accurate? And what is the difference between destruction and creation if an explosion of a vase of flowers looks more interesting than the original intact arrangement? “I’m interested in those oppositions of attraction and repulsion,” Gersht says, “and how the moment of destruction in the exploding mirrors becomes for me the moment of creation.”
“On Reflection” is on view at CRG Gallery, New York, Jan. 29–Mar. 14, 2015.