With the installation of the 14 photographs in Voyager, Silvio Wolf leads gallery visitors on a metaphorical journey enveloping the full range of photographic capabilities, weaving in and out of representation and abstraction. Beginning with an aerial view of seats at Milan's famous opera house, La Scala, Wolf signals that we are entering a world of theater and narrative. But the gallery visitor is not merely passive viewer. Rather than rooted in our chairs, Wolf's photo suggests we have transcended our assigned place, and are active performers. Indeed, photography as medium and structure are at the heart of Wolf's ongoing discourse. The ability of the medium to record and present information takes center stage, and necessarily light serves as the nominal content. The resultant forms play in abstraction, teetering on recognizable shapes and textures, ultimately articulating a meta-photography. A Rothko-esque panel finds the exquisite beauty in the striations of film leader — normally discarded on the darkroom floor, but here elevated to a higher status that is conceptual as well as perceptual. As the association with Rothko suggests, Wolf's work is never purely about structural exercises, but is grounded by the human and the emotional. Each photograph rivals the scale of the body, and in the glassy reflection of each piece the viewer is brought into the unfolding drama of the image, an effect reminiscent of Michelangelo Pistoletto's mirror paintings. The metaphorical journey of Voyager ends with a return to definable subjects: a tree in the morning mist, perhaps other voyagers ahead in the fog. Through the rhythms of appearance and disappearance, Wolf's theater of light investigates the epistemological potential of image-making, embracing the thresholds where the visible becomes manifest.
Silvio Wolf was born in Italy in 1952. Wolf has been exhibiting internationally for over 25 years, engaging mediums ranging from photography and film to public installations. His work was featured at Documenta 8, and is included in numerous public collections. The artist lives and works in Milan, Italy.
The following is a selection from a longer article featured in the March 2008 issue of ARTnews:
In pictures of ethereal specks and kaleidoscopic explosions of color, photographers are embracing abstraction... A desire to engage with the accidental motivates many of the artists whose work can be categorized as darkroom abstractions. To produce his "Chance" series, Silvio Wolf, whose show at Robert Mann Gallery will be up through the 15th of this month, uses leader — the film at the beginning of a roll that is never shot through the lens but may be exposed while loading a camera. Wolf's chromogenic dye-coupler prints, which are up to six feet tall, present intense monochromatic fields that mimic the compositions and emotional tensions of Rothko paintings. Though Wolf doesn't control the exposures, he pores over hundreds of leaders looking for a usable frame...
The New Yorker
March 17, 2008
Some of the Italian artist's big color photographs flirt with abstraction, and others directly engage it. Two groupings depict curtains and the light that filters through and pierces them, with allusions that range from Brancusi to Wolfgang Tillmans. As with most of the images, the subject is incidental to Wolf's seductive studies in luminosity, texture, and negative space. Two pictures dispense with subject entirely, reproducing the bands and blushes of color that appear on exposed film leader, but even a photo of three human figures allows them to disappear into a lovely, white-on-white fog, more memory than presence.
Art in America
"Voyager," Silvio Wolf's exhibition of large-scale chromogenic dye coupler prints, aimed for mystical heights. The Milanese artist's statement tells us that the show was conceived "as a literal and metaphorical journey through the gallery space." The 14 photographs were arrange in seven groupings, which included two triptychs and two diptychs that echoed the arrangements of panels in altarpiece (though each photograph could be sold separately).
First in the clockwise ordering of the installation was Red Screen (1999-2001) a photograph of the empty red velvet seats in Milan's Teatro alla Scala. Shot from above and verging on abstraction, the composition evokes a regimented audience and the theater as a place of ritual, which, in the contact of the exhibition, brought organized religion to mind. Such a reading of Red Screen was reinforced by pictures such as Chance 09 (2006-07), in which light flows through thin black drapes, thereby playing light against darkness, with the usual connotations of good versus evil, and reminding us of the iconography of revelation, as curtains may serves both to conceal and reveal. Chance 30 (2008), an abstract work that strongly suggests a landscape, and Chance 04 (Horizon 17), 2006, which is entirely nonobjective, seem to present the first acts of creation. Chance 23 (2006) shows a single distant tree — the Tree of Knowledge? — blurred by haze, while Chance 24 (2006) offers a trinity: three figures wrapped in mist and disappearing into white light. In the more abstract prints, Wolf spars with painting. Two painters who immediately come to mind when viewing certain photographs (Chance 05, Chance 08, Chance 10, Chance 03) are Rothko and Newman, whose works also address the mystical. That said, there is a physical slickness to Wolf's photographs — they are mounted between plexiglass and aluminum — which moves them from the spiritual and timeless toward a worldly, temporal realm of sensuous gratification.
As many titles indicate, Wolf welcomes the accidental and the unpredictable. Shot out of focus, Chance 05 (2006-07) is a lovely Rothkoesque composition in green, black and white whose subject is uncertain. Likewise Rothkoesque, Chance 03 (Horizon 16), 2006 with its superimposed, bleeding zones of white, pink, red and black, was printed from the film leader, which was exposed to light when the camera was loaded. Like Chance 30, it may be read as a desert — in the Holy Land perhaps — with overwhelming heat bearing down upon it. Wolf's works invite a quick read. But if that temptation is resisted, one starts to notice a range of connections between his images and the wider worlds of photography (notable Pictorialism, Constructivism, color pioneers like Eggleston, the work of Wolfgang Tillmans) and painting. Wolf clearly attaches a great deal of importance to technical and formal concerns (his mastery of color and light stand out), but he's happy to wrestle meaning from abstraction.