Paul Pfeiffer, Vitruvian Figure at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Malate, Manila
What follows is an unedited excerpt from an article I wrote about Paul Pfeiffer for the March 2015 issue of Rogue Magazine. Paul Pfeiffer’s Vitruvian Figure, runs at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design at the College of St. Benilde, SDA Campus, until April 16, 2015.
At the opening of Paul Pfeiffer’s first solo in the region, guests were invited to bask in the countenance of nature, perhaps as a respite from the chaos of Taft Avenue, one of the Metropolis’s oldest thoroughfares. Nature, in the form of 24 Landscapes (2000-2008), was the first thing visitors saw upon entering the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, at the opening reception held on February 6. Hanging in a grid on the 20-foot wall by the entrance to the MCAD, Pfeiffer’s juxtaposition of detailed shots of the tiniest pebbles with expansive shorelines invokes awe, suggesting a higher power to oversee this meaningful coexistence.
To those familiar with Pfeiffer’s work, this invitation and interpretation could be seen as a potentially humiliating misreading of the artist’s work. Yet, it is not without a point. What appear to be photographs were rendered without Pfeiffer ever getting behind a camera, rather 24 Landscapes is a series of photos of Marilyn Monroe, or photos that once had Marilyn Monroe front and center. Having erased the iconic figure, Pfeiffer is not only left with a massive gap in which to re-imagine the titular landscapes, allowing him to characterize the work not only as “camouflage” but as a form of abstract painting. As a consequence, what appear to be images of the natural world are actually products of pop culture, a means not only of using the archival image as a canvas for contemporary concerns, but of blurring the boundaries between what occurs naturally and what is made by hand.
Bearing this knowledge of the subject erased, one wonders how it is possible that an image of such calm can bear such a tragic history. Then again, is this not true for all our icons? For all those we consider worth celebrating, there comes the tragedy of humanity erased, and it is this idea of the iconic that binds the seven pieces exhibited at Vitruvian Figure – the centrepiece of which is a sun that neither sets nor rises, shifting one’s attention to the ground as it moves above and below it (Morning After the Deluge, 2003). Much has been written of Pfeiffer’s reference to William Turner, yet taken in the context of this exhibition, the image recalls Guy Debord’s description of the spectacle as “the sun that never sets on the empire of modern passivity.” […]