Image above: © Jan Dibbets, Comet Land 3°-60° Sky-Land-Sky / courtesy Peter Freeman, Inc.
Peter Freeman, Inc. presented Jan Dibbets’ first solo exhibition with the gallery in New York. This exhibition is a rare opportunity to see a selection of critically important works from 1970 to 1984 chosen by the artist, most on view for the first time in many years since their initial showings in museum exhibitions.
A pioneering figure of conceptual art, Dibbets trained as a painter, but began experimenting with photography early on in his career in the 1960s, and was one of the first artists to challenge the camera as a documentary tool. To him, photographs are raw material, to be handled and put to use, like any other medium. By using simple photographic processes and subtle variations from image to image—for instance, in the position of the camera or the quality of natural light—Dibbets is able to completely alter the viewers’ perception of the photographed subject, achieving an abstraction based in reality. The resulting collages, comprised of unique photographs, register the subject, but the subject is only a pretext for transformation.
Image above: © Jan Dibbets, Panorama Bloemendaal 345° / courtesy Peter Freeman, Inc.
In navigating a relationship between the conceptual and pictorial, Dibbets frequently employs notions and subjects from the natural world, the horizon for instance. Dibbets has been quoted as saying: “in the whole world, what is more beautiful than a straight line? And the horizon is a straight line in three dimensions, it’s an almost incredible phenomenon” (in Erik Verhagen, Jan Dibbets: The Photographic Work, 2014, page 71). And yet it’s also an illusion, not an objective truth—it is a construction we optically invent to help locate ourselves in the world. This analytical contemplation of illusionistic space and perspective tie him strongly to his art historical forbears – Mondrian and Cézanne among many others—and forms the foundation for the works in the exhibition.
Image above: © Jan Dibbets, Shortest Day Sunrise-Noon Guggenheim NY / courtesy Peter Freeman, Inc.
In his panoramas (Paestum Panorama, 1980, and Panorama Bloemendaal 345°, 1971 are on view here), Dibbets links individual photographs, each slightly different from the one before it due to a change in camera position. Though constructed, each composite landscape captures a sense of illusionistic space that is somehow more evocative of the real experience of standing in front of the subject. The artist’s essential ideas about nature, photography, and abstraction are evident in his well-known Comet works (like Comet Land 3°-60° Sky-Land-Sky, 1973, on view here), which are realized according to specific mathematical equations, systematically applied by Dibbets in the ordering, sizing, and content of each photograph. For another work in the exhibition -- Shortest Day Sunrise-Noon Guggenheim, 1970 -- Dibbets set out to record the light modulations in a room not through passing shadows, but the level of luminosity, in order to examine how a natural event itself can contribute to the making of an image.