At Simon Preston, Josh Tonsfeldt Enlightens By Baffling Us

THE DAILY PIC: Observation meets intuition in an artist perfect for our times.



THE DAILY PIC (#1446): This is a photo taken through the window of a tattoo parlor, but printed on a sheet of plaster whose surface has been molded from a television’s flat-screen components. It’s in Josh Tonsfeldt’s solo show at Simon Preston Gallery in New York, which is one of the most complex exhibitions I’ve seen in ages ­– complex the way John Donne is complex, or Cezanne.

Even the shot in today’s Pic, though fairly “straight”, looks like it could easily be a heavily Photoshopped palimpsest of imagery. I read it, at first, as some kind of trauma victim being worked on in the field, with a medic tuning in remotely through the iPhone. The word “Adrenaline” seemed a wry comment stolen from the branding of some energy drink, then digitally splashed across the underlying photo. I was laughably wrong, of course. (Paula Naughton, from the gallery, very gently set me straight.) But the point is that Tonsfeldt almost always pushes you down this kind of slippery scree of meaning.

He makes art that seems perfect for our moment: It takes the “documentary turn” of photo-conceptualism (Jeff Wall; Alan Sekula) and crosses it with our new century’s return to intuitive making and mess. It humanizes the documentary and, thank God, adds substance to intuition’s solipsism. A gorgeous photo of Tonsfeldt’s wife in labor, with a blood-oxygen meter on her finger, manages to be utterly sweet and Vermeerian without giving up on its contacts with our technologized world.

I can’t  begin to describe Tonsfeldt’s other, even more complex pieces in his show. They use actual components from flat screen TVs to blur the boundaries between image and object, photography and sculpture, immaterial video and utterly material engineering. Tonsfeldt enlightens while he baffles, and vice-versa. (Courtesy the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York)

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