BODY/BUILDING GROUP EXHIBITION
ST. LOUIS, MO
June 23 – August 11, 2007
Nudes and Buildings/Body Parts and Building
by Professor Carl Safe
The Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts
Washington University in St. Louis
BODY/ BUILDING is the work of two accomplished photographers who focus
on radically different subject matter with similar sensibilities. The
work of both is about structure and relationships, in literal, figurative
and poetic terms. Their work is built on the broad and strong tradition
of using the human form and the form of the built environment to document
who we are. The work is designed to intentionally encourage us to see
in ways that we are not used to seeing. They challenge us to more clearly
understand who we are and what we value. In the process we will be required
to reassess our own sensibilities. Like many artful endeavors, their
work can be provocative and for some, may even offend.
Both are reductivists, inclined to represent just enough so that we are
encouraged/obliged to imagine the rest: the rest of the building, the
rest of the body, but most importantly, the rest of the story.
We have been exploring the structure of the human body and the structure
of buildings for a very long time and we have been trying to represent
them for just as long.
In many instances, representations have been combined. Nude figures,
male and female, have adorned buildings in almost every culture since
antiquity, often in explicitly provocative ways. Indian temples, classical
sculpture and painting are dense with images that assault the puritan
We have also been on a continuous search to (re)define the ideal for
both; body, building and relationships. Those ideals have evolved from
culture to culture and from epoch to epoch. In western culture, we study
the Greek ideal, the Roman ideal, the ideal of the Renaissance and on
through modernity. The historic ideals are substantively different from
one another, but we have tended not to be too discriminating and seem
to be willing to "mix and match" at will. We romanticize those
antecedents and are still inclined to copy them rather than develop contemporary
standards that would have the potential to serve as precedents for future
generations. Palmer and Konchel are proposing that there are new ideals,
new relationships and new possibilities.
The idea of combining the work of these two artists is a bit provocative
itself. I presume that was Philip Hitchcock's intention as the curator
of the show. What could the edges, intersecting forms, sculpted shapes,
patterns, textures and rhythms of building segments have to do with the
edges, intersecting forms, sculpted shapes, textures and rhythms of the
male body? The subject matter could not be much more widely disparate.
Konchel's work is intentionally abstract, coolly appealing to our intellect
and requiring us to make associations based on a sense of compositional
propriety. Architecture is structural by definition. With few notable
exceptions, it is defined by hard, linear, machined edges. The poetic
power of Konchel's work is directly related to his skill in selecting
critical relationships between these components. He has no interest in
telling us the whole story. The images are strategically (surgically)
selected to capture intersections, assemblies, rhythms and patterns that
are critical to the essence of the object or place. If we want to know
more, it is our job to embellish, extrapolate or imagine the larger construct
from which these fragments have been appropriated. Some beg for that
elaboration while others are content to be appreciated as resolute compositions
in their own terms, confident in their boundaries. All depend on timing
and relationships; the right moment for light, shadow and shade to reveal
the essence of a story to which we have been given the preamble. While
his technical skills are obvious and important, as an artist, Konchel's
strength is in knowing where to stop.
Palmer's work is intentionally and provocatively representational, aimed
directly at our sensual selves. His images challenge us to accept not
just the abstraction of a beautiful new male ideal but also the reality
that those males enjoy the same passionate relationships that straight
culture has been inclined to reserve for itself. His work celebrates
both the ideal as an abstraction and the relationships as a reality.
The images are provocative not because the individuals are beautiful
male nudes. They are. They are provocative, and aggressively so, because
of the relationships and references they suggest are unabashedly carnal,
suspiciously religious and amorphously abstract. This is not accidental.
Palmer is a photographer with a point of view and he intends to share
it, assaulting the absurdities of a society that is discomforted by homoerotic
possibilities while at the same time celebrating Victoria's Secret as
a television show.
Palmer's work demonstrates his ability to capture the seemingly unscripted
moment and a studiously posed composition with equal sensitivity. Both
the objects and the relationships are beautiful but the possibilities
they represent are more beautiful still.
Philip Hitchcock has assembled a beautiful collection of images that
engage and challenge the viewer from many perspectives. As mentioned
earlier, the work of these two artists can be seen as representing different
ends of a continuum, but it is a continuum. One is politically dispassionate,
intellectual, sensitive to line and geometry and demanding an ineffable
compositional clarity in the relationships he captures. The other is
culturally provocative, emotional, intimate, aggressively sensual and
sensitive to the curve of organic form. In juxtaposing their work, Hitchcock
has given us a collection of the three things that we value most, our
bodies, our buildings and our relationships.