Last year’s much-maligned Sondheim finalist show was dominated by photographs that felt desperate to appear relevant. While Kyle Tata works in the same medium, his photographs seem to take the opposite, high-modernist approach of eschewing any sense of relevancy and embracing formalism to the extreme. In fact, Tata says that his work is an investigation of the ways that modernism “haunts the American landscape”—especially in the works of Mies Van Der Rohe and Philip Johnson. Some of the photographs, such as 'Parking Garage'—with its regular concrete grid—make a direct architectural allusion; others, such as 'A Broken Shot Glass for Mies,' seem more akin to Man Ray than Mies Van Der Rohe in everything but the title. 'Chicago, 1942' is a beautifully foggy black and white picture of a man (or two men, I'm not sure) that both evokes the height of modernism and subverts it with its lack of clarity, making something nostalgic of the modern.
Other photographs don’t come across so well. ‘Chrysalidocarpus Lutescens 448.040.05’ looks like the project of an exceptionally bright high school photography student imitating Edward Weston, while others, such as ‘A shattered Window for Mrs. Farnsworth,’ look like images one would find in an Ikea frame. It’s hard to tell if this is a critique of modernism and the commodification of the image—make it abstract so that people won’t mind having it above the couch—or just schlocky work.
Altogether more successful is White Egg Crate Fluorescent Light Diffuser series, which consists of several pieces of cyanotype on linen. The grids of the egg-crate series mirror that of ‘Parking Garage,’ but the blue tone also echoes Yves Klein, and the tension, or juxtaposition, of these two qualities lends these pieces an extraordinarily painterly quality that would be nice above the couch, but also offers something far more than “critique,” which, at this point, feels like a school exercise in its own right.
If we removed the wall text explaining away many of the weaker images and then felt free to remove those images, Tata would be left with a much stronger show, consisting of the Egg Crate series and a few of the stronger, more enigmatic photographs, such as the bewitching ‘Chicago, 1942.’