For the past few weeks artist Matthew Brandt has been taking photographs of the many forms and textures of the Getty Center, from its travertine blocks and geometric architecture to the frames and paintings within the galleries themselves. He has then transformed the images in his studio for a new video project premiering at the Getty in a collaborative visual concert with musician Julianna Barwick this Saturday. His own photographs fill a room in the Museum’s Center for Photographs as part of the recently opened exhibition Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography, which investigates experimental photographic practices. Included are six photographs from Brandt’s Lakes and Reservoirs series, which exemplify his inventive approach to creating materially and conceptually driven artworks.
When Brandt travels to photograph a location, such as a lake, he also collects natural materials from the site, which he then incorporates into the work. For Rainbow Lake, WY A20 below, properly developed and fixed photographs are soaked in lake water collected from Rainbow Lake, which glides across and breaks down the surface, altering the image and conflating the photograph with the world it depicts.
Many photographs are rooted in an impulse to preserve. They often capture a moment in time and freeze it. But in the darkroom, Brandt subjects that moment to another life cycle. Colors and shapes are formed through chance in a process that mimics phenomena of entropy and decomposition in nature itself, and the results carry the sublime beauty of decay. By accelerating an image through this second life, Brandt toys with the notion of time, acknowledging the conceit of the preserved moment in photography, and pointing to the impermanence of both art and life.
When we in the Museum’s public programs department asked Brandt to collaborate on a visual contribution for our concert series Saturday Nights at the Getty, he took the opportunity to expand his practice in video for a performative context (which he had only explored once before) and to experiment with animation for the first time. In a twist on his investigation of photography, Brandt chose another subject rooted in an impulse to preserve: the museum.
Like photographs, museums fight ephemerality, aiming to preserve history. Also like photographs, they build narratives that reflect compounded versions of reality. For this new video piece, Brandt turned his lens to the Getty, and then subjected the resulting photographic prints to bleach and oil in the studio, recording the effects on video. From these quotidian and humble materials, the futuristic spaceship aesthetics of the site meet the cosmos in psychedelic, swirling pigments, their degeneration documented by mind-bending time- lapse video.
Brandt’s photographs are exhibited when the modifying processes have reached some form of stasis, and while they are mostly fixed, the chemical and organic materials will continue to decompose and change over time. Unlike his photographs, however, this video project allows the process to run its course until the images disappear completely in a total white-out.
In the video the Getty’s signature white surfaces, severe geometry, and sculpted orderliness are eviscerated by the forces of Brandt’s viscous substances. In animated sequences, torrents of ooze seem to burst from architectural gridlines or spout from gilded frames, reminding us that even civilizations, with their formidable institutions built in stone to endure the ages, inevitably decline.
Matthew Brandt’s video will premiere at the Getty on April 25th in a special visual concert with musician Julianna Barwick. To learn more about the work of Matthew Brandt and the exhibition Light, Paper, Process, visit the exhibition webpage.