Robert Mann Gallery opens the fall exhibition season with a suite of vintage photographic works by Dutch conceptual artist Michel Szulc-Krzyzanowski. Living out of his custom expedition vehicle, Szulc-Krzyzanowski engaged in a rigorous study of possibilities opened by combining multiple frames of images into sequences. David Travis, former curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, writing about Szulc-Krzyzanowski's Sequences in 1984 explains,
[W]e can imagine him to be a magician, who plays tricks on our perceptions with his photographic sleights of hand in order to loosen the strict conventions of our imagination and in the end entertains us. But even in his play he uses the appearance of simultaneity to make the illusion work.
Greatly ahead of his time, Szulc-Krzyzanowski began his sequences in the early 1970s. Embracing the potential for multiple frames to be read together, he deployed a variety of conceptual strategies in these works: alternately invoking the passage or apparent suspension of time. Szulc-Krzyzanowski consistently plays off the structural basis of the frame; particular sequences seem to ignore the parameters of individual exposures—a paradoxical conceit as the printing displays the edges of each negative. In such instances the Sequences are decidedly non-cinematic in their embrace of flatness and simultaneity. While these descriptions might imply otherwise, change is a constant in the Sequences, most often illusively describing movement by maintaining single elements as a constant visual referent—sometimes a part of the artist's body, an object in the foreground or the distant horizon line.
The meaningful thrust of the Sequences derives from their exploration of perception and reception. But they also exhibit a playful inquisitiveness that aligns Szulc-Krzyzanowski with contemporaries such as John Baldessari. Szulc-Krzyzanowski's work represents a process of discovery. In perceiving his images, we cannot help be aware of the performance inherent in their production. We can imagine the artist—the camera almost an extension of his body—on the beach, interrogating perceptual and aesthetic boundaries. Again, in David Travis's words, "It is not so much an experience during time that [Szulc-Krzyzanowski] presents, but rather a conceptual experience concerning time."
Michel Szulc-Krzyzanowski was born in 1949 in Oosterhout, The Netherlands. His work has been exhibited internationally since the early 1970s and is included in numerous major public collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Stedelijk Museum.
The twenty photographic sequences in this show were made between 1977 and 1982 while the artist was living in Baja California, which may account for their combination of conceptual smarts and trippy wit. Composed of between two and seven photographs, each piece finds Szulc-Krzyzanowski on the beach, playing with our perceptions. With the sea, the sand, and the sky as his serene backdrop, he levitates a stick, eclipses his shadow with his open palms, and shrinks a sand dollar. There's nothing particularly rigorous or revelatory here, but the work is entertaining, ingratiating, and not without flashes of magic.