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Videowatercolors: Carel Balth Among His Contemporaries


Videowatercolors: Carel Balth Among His Contemporaries The question is how to formulate the complexity of our time without losing hope for the future. — Carel Balth

Finding poetry in a rigorous analysis of technical considerations and outcomes characterizes Balth’s art in general, starting with his earliest explorations of light and experience in Corner Piece (1974) and Transition Tree II (1977). A substantial exploration of the Videowatercolors series supports a fuller understanding of the primary concerns of the artist’s career, while revealing suggestive parallels to works by contemporaneous artists from the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, and elsewhere, included in this exhibition and drawn from the Henry Art Gallery’s permanent collection.

Art at the intersections of different mediums is often about

Balth’s work assimilates for our own time the longstand-

the space or state of being “in between”: neither the one,

ing fascination the Dutch have had with reflection and

nor the other, yet both, or plural, and more. The influential

recording reality. Still Life (2004) captures a red flowering

critic Clement Greenberg claimed that each modern art form

bush in the rain, seen through a windowpane, seemingly

should strip itself of anything not essential to its medium,

struck by a distant flash of lightning. In the zoomed-in view

modernist painting essentially being pigments on a flat

on top the video recorder momentarily blurred the bush,

surface. When today we abandon his “medium specificity,”

thereby replicating the process of filming and the experi-

this does not entail the loss of coherence and specificity

ence of looking — focusing on water drops that act like so

some have feared. Trace and materiality are seen as essen-

many lenses, or eyes, which turn the bush upside down. The

tial conditions of photography, which relies on the physical

drops materialize the glass pane as something mediating

impact of light on a sensitive medium, yet these traits are

between inside and out, much like a picture plane does, a

also shared by painting. In Carel Balth’s universe the con-

conceit explored by several other artists in the show, such

cerns of these two mediums merge with those of new media

as Italian photographer Luisa Lambri. Lambri’s Untitled

art, uniquely incarnated in his Videowatercolors.

(Palácia da Indústria, #3) (2003) is typical of her interest in windows in modernist architecture as conduits for

Dutch contemporary artist Carel Balth, one of a grow-

light and subtle perceptual phenomena, as framing devices

ing group of artists who explore the intersections between

marking the opposition between the natural and man-

photography, painting, and new media, is best known for

made — a trope of abstract painting.

the Videowatercolors, a term he coined for a recent series of works. The word invokes the blending of two mediums not normally associated with each other—one relatively new, high-tech, and viewed on pixelated screens, the other as old as art, poetically intimate, and horizontally oriented because of the flow of pigmented water. In these works Balth combines two or more moments from a digital video recording on watercolor paper or canvas, drawing analogies between the constant flow of pixels that constitute video’s image capture and the fluid gestures that compose a watercolor. Though ostensibly simple, the subtle differences between the video images, often slightly manipulated, enlarged, or rotated, actually trace complex shifts in space and time, light and color, movement, rhythm, and orientation, coordinating into a multifaceted ensemble.

Luisa Lambri Untitled (Palácio da Indústria, #3). 2003 Laserchrome print mounted to acrylic Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2008.195


Carel Balth Still Life. 2004 Inkjet print mounted to Plexiglas Courtesy of the artist


Balth’s Moving II (2002) captures the rhythmic dance of a

Moving IV (2001, on the front cover) is one of Balth’s most

shimmering water surface so familiar for its mesmeriz-

seductive images, its deep red curving shapes invoking

ing effects. Yet it takes a moment, and the rotating of our

luscious lips on a large scale. Balth filmed a seat on a

heads to the left, to register that the top half, which looks

train in motion and chose two moments when the light and

like an indeterminate substance, is simply the same water

the creases on the seat shifted. Erotic and visceral, the

surface, now turned and magnified, rendered strange and

image is suggestive of countless travelers who sat on a

stringy, seemingly solid and icily reflective. Skyscape

surface as smooth and pliant as skin. At somewhat closer

(Blue Horizon) (2003) appears to be a desert landscape

range Balth’s Videowatercolors break down into distinct

seen from the sky. In fact, Balth aimed his video camera at

pixels that enhance rather than interrupt the sense of flow.

an airplane window covered with little ice crystals, letting

Unlike film, comprising discrete frames, digital video is a

it run until dark clouds appeared; he then simply doubled

maelstrom of ever-shifting pixels, each so-called videograb

the view to create Skyscape. (What may look like sand are

not representing a new frame so much as one out of mil-

actually dark clouds with refracting ice crystals—again,

lions of possible shifting modalities in the distribution of

different states of water, really.) What appears to be a hori-

colored light, suggesting continuity and flux. In our digital

zon line is actually an abstraction.

age of image bites and media saturation we have become accustomed to the constant frantic flow of visual imagery, yet Balth’s interest in light, movement, rhythm and the like does not serve to speed things up. Flux and flow relay a ritardando, a rhythmic slowing down that turns digital fractioning into poetic softness, as though curbing the swift touch of light—whether it is reflecting off a moving water surface or train seat, or streaming through an airplane window at 600 miles an hour — but in seemingly complete stillness.

Carel Balth Moving II. 2002 Inkjet print on canvas Courtesy of the artist


Carel Balth Skyscape (Blue Horizon). 2003 Inkjet print mounted to Plexiglas Courtesy of the artist


Carel Balth A la Recherche. 1995 Inkjet print on canvas Collection of the artist


The smooth surface of the large Vinyls — Reflection III

Balth builds on and updates similar questions first probed

(1997), The Three Graces (plus II) (1998), and Sky Lines III

by German artist Gerhard Richter, whose works assert

(1999) — made with a giant, dot-shooting inkjet plotter, shows

painting and photography as reciprocal interferences

distinct colored specks that blend into shapes optically

somewhere between the natural, the abstract, the mate-

and only from some distance, not unlike Seurat’s pointil-

rial, and the performative. These qualities are illustrated

list dots. In A la Recherche (1995), from the earlier Laser

in Richter’s Untitled (1989), a photograph of high-rises

Paintings series, the use of unprimed canvas made it so

overlaid with colorful oils that create ambiguous spaces

that the pigments were shot into, rather than onto, the

between surface and depth, showing traces of luscious

surface, which further soaked up the pigments, producing a

paint in stark contrast to the modular architecture, and

beautifully soft effect. Balth digitally manipulated a laser-

signaling painting as a performative act, one that is both

scanned photograph, abraded with white crease marks, of

mechanical and passionate, abstract and natural. What

a blowup of brushstrokes from Monet’s famous Waterlilies

appears to be a tree-like shape at lower right, resulting

series at 2,500 times, creating a marvelously suggestive

from the chance effects of pressing the photo on paint and

surface that both simulates the traces of a wavering brush

lifting it up, finds a counterpart at lower left in Balth’s

and evokes an aerial view of water and vegetation, as

“Polaroid Painting” Artwork without the Tulipman (1986)

though seen through the rippling creases of an old photo-

from a few years before. Balth made such works by shooting

graph (the title alludes to Proust’s play on memory and loss

a Polaroid photo, pressing on and scratching the surface

in In Search of Lost Time). The key question in both paint-

during the process of development, then substantially

ing and photography — capturing the light of the moment

enlarging and laminating the photograph and stretching it

with pigments — is updated for our age of lasers and digital

around a stretcher, as in a painting. The tall building shot

encoding.

from below at night using flashlight is suddenly set ablaze. The physical pressure and chemical reaction at lower left produced an organic looking, plant- or tree-like shape not unlike the one effected by Richter.

Gerhard Richter Untitled. 1989 Chromogenic color print with oil additions. Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.136

Carel Balth Artwork without the Tulipman. 1986 Chromogenic color print Courtesy of the artist


Revealing the effects of gesture in this way is just one technique Balth uses to temper his analytic impulses with formal surprises such as distinct, colorful pixels, which like the expressive patches of brush strokes in modern painting are just visible enough to prompt reflection on what the artist calls “the gift of perception.” This sensitivity to the viewer’s experience runs throughout Balth’s oeuvre, explored first through the use of Plexiglas and metal in his Light Objects (1969 – 75); then through successive experiments with photography in The New Collages (1979 – 82), the Suite series (1977 – 91), and the Polaroid Paintings (1982 – 86); and then incorporating digital technology in the Laser Paintings (1986 – 96), Vinyls (1997 – 99), and the Videowatercolors. Each series seduces viewers to discover poetry in the commonplace, to give themselves over to the process of seeing — again and again — and recognizing the pleasure of looking that drives things forward.

Marek Wieczorek Associate Professor of Art History University of Washington

Carel Balth Suite II (piece 3). 1977 – 1991 Laser print on aluminum with epoxy finish Courtesy of the artist


Carel Balth Desire. 2006 Inkjet print mounted to Plexiglas Courtesy of the artist


Exhibition Checklist

Works by Carel Balth Corner Piece, the Perception of Color (Yellow). 1974 Acrylic on Plexiglas 78 3/4 x 1 x 1 in. (200 x 2.5 x 2.5 cm) Collection of the artist

Suite II (piece 1). 1977–1991 Laser print on aluminum with epoxy finish 53 1/8 x 39 3/8 in. (135 x 100 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Transition Tree II. 1977 Chromogenic color prints 11 13/16 x 47 1/4 in. (30 x 120 cm) Private collection

Suite II (piece 3). 1977–1991 Laser print on aluminum with epoxy finish 53 1/8 x 39 3/8 in. (135 x 100 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Diptych. 1978 Chromogenic color and gelatin silver prints 27 9/16 x 78 3/4 in. (70 x 200 cm) Collection of the artist The New Collage (11). 1980-1981 Chromogenic color print with metallic foil 24 x 17 11/16 in. (61 x 45 cm) Private collection The New Collage (10). 1981 Chromogenic color print 39 3/4 x 53 9/16 in. (101 x 136 cm) Collection of the artist Who Is Coming? 1983 Chromogenic color print 73 1/4 x 48 13/16 in. (186 x 124 cm) Courtesy of the artist Artwork without the Tulipman. 1986 Chromogenic color print 46 7/8 x 48 1/16 in. (119 x 122 cm) Courtesy of the artist About the Reality of Peace. 1986 Chromogenic color print 71 5/8 x 72 7/16 in. (182 x 184 cm) Collection of the artist Virginal Equilibrium of Passion. 1988 Chromogenic color print 74 13/16 x 66 1/8 in. (190 x 168 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Glasswork II. 2001 Inkjet print on canvas 49 3/16 x 35 7/16 in. (125 x 90 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Religions II. 2007 Inkjet print on canvas 20 1/2 x 14 9/16 in. (52 x 37 cm each) Courtesy of the artist

Moving II. 2002 Inkjet print on canvas 28 3/8 x 38 3/16 in. (72 x 97 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Religions III. 2007 Inkjet print on canvas 20 1/2 x 14 9/16 in. (52 x 37 cm each) Courtesy of the artist

A la Recherche. 1995 Inkjet print on canvas 45 11/16 x 33 7/16 in. (116 x 85 cm) Collection of the artist

Skyscape (Blue Horizon). 2003 Inkjet print mounted to Plexiglas 42 1/2 x 55 1/2 in. (108 x 141 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Night Beat. 2007 Inkjet print on canvas 61 x 55 1/8 in. (155 x 140 cm) Courtesy of the artist

A la Recherche. 1995 Inkjet print on canvas 69 5/16 x 49 3/16 in. (176 x 125 cm) Collection of the artist

Look II. 2003 Inkjet print 40 3/16 x 54 5/16 in. (102 x 138 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Reflections III. 1997 Inkjet print on vinyl 96 7/16 x 70 7/8 in. (245 x 180 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Cycle I. 2003 Inkjet print 20 1/16 x 13 3/4 in. (51 x 35 cm) Courtesy of the artist

The Three Graces (plus II). 1998 Inkjet print on vinyl 96 7/16 x 212 5/8 in. (245 x 540 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Cycle II. 2003 Inkjet print 20 1/16 x 13 3/4 in. (51 x 35 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Sky Lines III. 1999 Inkjet print on vinyl 88 9/16 x 88 9/16 in. (225 x 225 cm) Courtesy of the artist Reflections. 2001 Inkjet print on canvas 64 15/16 x 43 5/16 in. (165 x 110 cm) Courtesy of the artist Moving IV. 2001 Inkjet print on canvas 64 15/16 x 47 1/4 in. (165 x 120 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Still Life. 2004 Inkjet print mounted to Plexiglas 41 3/4 x 28 3/8 in. (106 x 72 cm) Courtesy of the artist Desire. 2006 Inkjet print mounted to Plexiglas 62 5/8 x 42 1/8 in. (159 x 107 cm) Courtesy of the artist Religions I. 2007 Inkjet print on canvas 20 1/2 x 14 9/16 in. (52 x 37 cm each) Courtesy of the artist

Madrid V. 2001-2008 Inkjet print on canvas 47 1/4 x 64 15/16 in. (120 x 165 cm) Courtesy of the artist Dawn. 2008 Inkjet print on canvas 74 13/16 x 55 1/8 in. (190 x 140 cm) Courtesy of the artist Self. 2008-2009 Inkjet print 36 5/8 x 31 1/2 in. (93 x 80 cm) Courtesy of the artist Light Dance I. 2008-2009 Inkjet print on canvas 31 1/2 x 86 5/8 in. (80 x 220 cm) Courtesy of the artist Light Dance II. 2008-2009 Inkjet print on canvas 31 1/2 x 86 5/8 in. (80 x 220 cm) Courtesy of the artist Light Dance III. 2008-2009 Inkjet print on canvas 31 1/2 x 86 5/8 in. (80 x 220 cm) Courtesy of the artist Time Shift II. 2009 Inkjet print on canvas 55 1/8 x 59 1/16 in. (140 x 150 cm) Courtesy of the artist

Time Shift III (Continuum). 2009 Inkjet print 41 5/16 x 37 3/8 in. (105 x 95 cm) Courtesy of the artist Time Shift IV. 2009-2010 Inkjet print on canvas 55 1/8 x 57 1/16 in. (140 x 145 cm) Courtesy of the artist Transvision I. 2010-2011 Inkjet print on aluminum with epoxy finish 27 9/16 x 30 11/16 in. (70 x 78 cm) Courtesy of the artist Transvision III. 2011 Inkjet print on aluminum with epoxy finish 48 13/16 x 35 1/16 in. (124 x 89 cm) Courtesy of the artist Transvision V. 2011 Inkjet print on canvas 55 1/8 x 63 in. (140 x 160 cm) Courtesy of the artist Materialization I. 2011 Digital video 5 minutes Collection of the artist Materialization II. 2011 Digital video 5 minutes Collection of the artist


Exhibition Checklist

Works from the collection of the henry art gallery John Baldessari (U.S., born 1931) Eye Lid (with Log). 1986 Gelatin silver print, chromogenic color print, and color paper montage 50 3/16 x 61 1/16 x 2 in. (127.5 x 155.1 x 5.1 cm) installed size Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.15 A & B Walead Beshty (U.S., born U.K. 1976) Four-Sided Picture (RBMY), January 12, 2007, Valencia, CA. 2007 Photogram on paper 23 3/4 x 19 3/4 in. (60.3 x 50.2 cm) image size Henry Art Gallery, Henry Contemporaries Acquisition Fund purchase, 2008.177 Elger Esser (Germany, born 1967) Brantome II. 1999 Chromogenic color print mounted to Plexiglas 17 5/8 x 22 3/4 in. (44.8 x 56.8 cm) image size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2003.45 Robbert Flick (U.S., born Holland 1939)

Untitled. 1977 Gelatin silver print 5 1/16 x 7 5/8 in. (12.9 x 19.4 cm) image size Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 81.12

Ori Gersht (U.K., born Israel 1967) Concrete City Scans: Stardust. 2003 Chromogenic color print mounted on aluminum 58 x 3/4 x 65 in. (149.2 x 165.1 cm) image size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2009.40 Andreas Gursky (Germany, born 1955) Ruhrtal. 1989 Chromogenic color print 23 1/2 x 32 5/8 in. (59.7 x 82.9 cm) image size Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.74 Luisa Lambri (Italy, born 1969)

Untitled (Palácio da Indústria, #3). 2003 Laserchrome print mounted to acrylic 32 5/8 x 27 1/2 in. (82.8 x 69.8 cm) image size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2008.195 Luisa Lambri (Italy, born 1969)

Untitled (The Miller House, #03). 2003 Laserchrome print mounted to acrylic 37 11/16 x 46 11/16 in. (95.7 x 118.6 cm) image size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2008.194 Garry Fabian Miller (U.K., born 1957)

Untitled #17. 1976-1977 Silver-dye bleach print 18 11/16 x 18 3/4 in. (47.5 x 47.6 cm) visible image size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2007.28

Gerhard Richter (Germany, born 1932)

Untitled. 1989 Chromogenic color print with oil additions 5 13/16 x 4 in. (15.2 x 10.2 cm) image size; 13 1/8 x 16 7/16 in. (33.2 x 41.8 cm) sheet size Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.136 Hans-Christian Schink (Germany, born 1961) L.A. Night #10. 2003 Chromogenic color print mounted to acrylic 37 1/2 x 51 3/8 in. (95.3 x 130.5 cm) image size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2005.124 Robert Smithson (U.S., 1938 – 1973) Torn Photograph from the Second Stop (Rubble). Second Mountain of Six Stops on a Section. 1970 Photolithograph 21 7/8 x 21 7/8 in. (55.5 x 55.5 cm) image size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Matthew Kangas, in honor of R. Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 95.12 Iain Stewart (U.K., born 1967) Guiding Star. 1998 Chromogenic color print 15 1/8 x 15 in. (38.4 x 38.1 cm) image size; 19 5/8 x 16 in. (50.1 x 40.6 cm) sheet size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2003.61

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan, born 1948) Farnsworth House. 2001 Gelatin silver print 23 x 18 1/2 in. (58.4 x 47 cm) image size; 23 3/4 x 19 7/16 in. (60.3 x 48.3 cm) sheet size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2009.51 Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan, born 1948) Bay of Sagami, Atami. 1997 Gelatin silver print 16 13/16 x 21 5/16 in. (42.7 x 54.1 cm) image size; 19 3/8 x 23 1/2 in. (49.2 x 59.7 cm) sheet size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2007.36 Wolfgang Tillmans (Germany, born 1968) Strings of Life. 1999 Dye transfer print 11 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. (29.2 x 24.1 cm) image size; 16 x 12 in. (40.6 x 30.5 cm) sheet size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2002.48 Andy Warhol (U.S., 1928 – 1987) Interior of Suzy Frankfurt’s Apartment. c. 1976 – 1986 Gelatin silver prints machine-sewn with thread 21 1/4 x 27 1/2 (54 x 70 cm) overall Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and the Boeing Company, 97.180 James Welling (U.S., born 1951) #24. 2000 Chromogenic color print mounted to acrylic 43 3/4 x 31 1/4 in. (111.1 x 79.4 cm) exposed image size Henry Art Gallery, gift of Burt and Jane Berman, 2005.134


Above: Carel Balth. Transvision V. 2011. Inkjet print on canvas. Courtesy of the artist. On the cover: Carel Balth. Moving IV. 2001. Inkjet print on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Videowatercolors: Carel Balth Among His Contemporaries October 15, 2011 – January 22, 2012 Henry Art Gallery University of Washington • Seattle henryart.org

Curated by University of Washington Associate Professor of Art History Marek Wieczorek. The exhibition is made possible with major funding from The Boeing Company and the Mondriaan Foundation and is supported in part with public funds from the Netherlands Cultural Service.

Videowatercolors: Carel Balth Among His Contemporaries  

On View at the Henry Art Gallery October 15, 2011 – January 22, 2012

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