Photographer Ori Gersht's 'Floating World' at Kohn Gallery casts a spell
Ori Gersht uses a digital camera, off-the-shelf software and a high-end printer to make photographs that make you wonder what you are looking at. It’s a slippery enterprise. When it works, the uncertainty is sublime.
That happens with impressive frequency at Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, where 12 large photographs in the Israel-born, London-based artist’s “Floating World” series have been installed in the cathedral-like main space.
All of Gersht’s pictures are pretty. Shot in gardens in Japan, each is a carefully composed arrangement of trees and leaves, many reflected in the glassy or rippled surfaces of lakes and ponds.
Sometimes the sky seems to be underfoot. In others, it appears to be both above and below. Terra firma dissolves into an atmospheric expanse of mystery and possibility, both riddled by doubt and laced with anxiety. It’s a stimulating state equally animated by curiosity and confusion.
Stone bridges and walkways occasionally appear in Gersht’s pictures, but for the most part, he limits himself to the beauty of cultivated nature — to the ways humans have arranged the landscape and the objects in it so that their beauty is breathtaking.
That is what Gersht does in his photographs. The surfaces of his pigment-impregnated prints function like the watery surfaces they depict: mirroring what’s around them by reflecting and refracting light.
Sometimes the magic of the mirroring gets the best of Gersht. That’s when he duplicates various elements too many times. The patterns that result have the presence of Photoshopped collages or movie versions of drugged-out hallucinations.
But when Gersht limits his manipulations to a few precise gestures, his pictures sing — casting a spell of a world too beautiful to turn away from. Manet comes to mind, especially in the way the French painter used a mirror to warp space in his 1882 canvas “The Bar at the Folies Bergère.” So too does Monet, whose Impressionist ponds compress the sky above and the water below onto the painted surface in ways that are charged with ambiguity.
In a pair of side galleries, older works by Gersht mess with perception more theatrically and less felicitously. Their impact is powerful, but it is no match for the subtle profundity of his “Floating World” photographs.