Reception Date: 
Fri, 04/05/2013 - 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Show Date: 
Fri, 04/05/2013 - Sat, 04/27/2013
Transcending Photography: featuring Todd Brown and Roberto Kusterle

Transcending Photography 4.5.13
Raising the bar and consciousness with prints by Roberto Kusterle and Todd Brown
– by Michael J. Krainak, Free Lance Writer in the Visual Arts

Though they create in the same medium, neither Roberto Kusterle nor Todd Brown is satisfied with an ordinary concept of photographic art. Even the briefest glance at their imagery suggests a shared interest in something beyond the familiarly figurative or representational. A closer look reveals that while both work in portraiture and narrative, the result is more than just a matter of different content, style and point of view.
In Transcending Photography, which opens April 5th at Modern Arts Midtown, the Italian Kusterle and native Nebraskan Brown not only stretch their art, they hybridize it into a form of New Media. In about two dozen images each, Kusterle combines installation and sculpture into his surrealistic photographs while Brown mixes theatrical vignettes and performance art. MAM owner and curator Larry Roots notes also a distinctive tone and palette.
“Kusterle produces graven black and white images that evoke a foreboding,” said Roots. “Brown, on the other hand, produces in a warm Caravaggio darkness, the drama of play and beauty of youth in the flesh.”
Brown shares Kusterle’s formal and expressionistic aesthetic, but his vision is more contemporary. His scenarios are “purposefully spare” he says, “a scene meant to reveal elements of the instinctual self, our private functions, comforting daily tasks and personal gestures of ritual.” Private and personal, yes, but theatrical and demonstrative of the daily grind and how we escape one and prepare for the next.
One possible signature image for Brown here might be the aptly named “The Curtain” in which two nudes draw “it” open in a theater, reminding us that the whole world is a stage literally and psychologically whereupon we act out our dramas symbolically and publicly. This photo then sets the stage for all others, particularly a rather primal set including such archetypal titles as “The Fire,” “The Hunt” and “The Couple.” A subtitle for the last might be “The Temptation” as it depicts a de-masked Eve offering the proverbial apple to Adam.
In two unique series, Without Time and Place and A Silent Mutation, Kusterle features human forms often fused with plant and animal shapes or in impossible scenarios best described as dreamscapes…or nightmares. Each set creates what he calls an “uncertain harmony” of dreams, reality, humanity and nature that act out and comment on classical and cultural myths.
For example, in the first series, Kusterle ritualizes our hopes, fears and struggles primarily with solitary figures isolated in a surreal land or seascape in such works as “Sisyphus” and “Narcissus.” More optimistic are his “fisherman” in “Fishing Reserve,” “Silent Choir” and The Lone Fencer” who stand erect and cast their fate to the powers that be.
The two images that best illustrate his dualistic vision are the extraordinary “The Wings of Dreams” and “The Flight of the Waiver.” The first is optimistic as an angelic beauty faces the horizon with wings spread. The latter is despairing as his wings made of branches hold him aloft but captive. A striking contrast of two mythic/heroic figures wanting to fly.
Yet, the real affirmation here is knowing that each of Kusterle’s photos is a real life installation before it is shot and printed without benefit of digital manipulation. This is true also of his second series which boasts mostly portraits of unconventional beauty, women one with their makeup and coiffures and headdresses of seeds, pods and other plant life.
Kusterle is an illusionist who transcends photography with his elaborate installations that suspend disbelief. Brown is the dramatist who uses elaborate choreography and blocking to a similar end. They each are masters of their fine art but by combining it with other media they not only raise the bar but consciousness as well.