I have a rule for myself when I visit a gallery or museum. I first do a “blind run” of the exhibition, going in without asking too many questions about the show beforehand. It's like having a clean slate and I absorb the work without expectations or prejudices. Especially when the show is of an artist I have not encountered before. After that, I read whatever information is available and go through the show once again with a better understanding of the work and the artist's intentions. If it is a good show, then there is plenty to keep me interested during both walk throughs.
Hugh Scott-Douglas' exhibition The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at Blum and Poe is indeed a good show. It is immediately intriguing with its entryway piece that demands your attention by taking the whole wall to your left, while the view to the rest of the gallery is blocked by a monumental sculpture, creating a hallway. Against the wall, every inch is covered with blue grids, as if laying down a blueprint for the exhibit. For it's rigid and plain aesthetic and composition, this piece still manages to be plenty fun as I walk back and forth staring at the lines they create an optical illusion and warping effect. Behind the big sculpture that was on the right is an identical but smaller sculpture. And behind it another. And behind it another. Creating a cascading effect of briefcase-like objects. The canvas of the front sides all have slits which follow the same scale. The room feels very “logical” with the patterns of both installations following the rules that the artist has set out. In the next room, tow smaller panels with blue grids. Again we see the artist playing with scale, repeating shapes and patterns. Isolated in its own gallery, this piece takes on a complete life of its own. While the wall-sized installation had me struggling with its monumentality, this one allows me to take it all in at once. The dark room next up houses five slide projectors casting different shades of blue against the wall. As the slides change, the overlapping projections give us new colors.
Round two. The main influence for the works in this exhibition is a 1920's German Expressionist film. The film utilizes flashbacks and calls into question space, time perspective. Knowing this I now feel as though the warping effect of the blue grids is sending me to another dimension. The Russian Doll effect of the other installation can also be disorienting and reminiscent of the “dream within a dream” motif used in the film. The artist travels from opposite ends of the light spectrum, using blueprinting technique that relies on ultraviolet light to create his grids. In his other installation, he relies on infrared light to cut holes into the canvas with lasers. The light motif continues in the projection room, which now has a very clear relationship to cinema. The press release describes the slide projectors as a “cacophony of mechanized shuttering”, which I think is a bit of a stretch since each carousel only rotates once every 15 minutes. The view and sounds are enjoyable nonetheless.
Scott-Douglas' show is both aesthetically pleasing and conceptually satisfying, so catch it before it closes February 16th.
Words and images by Noé Gaytán