Reviewed: “Left Behind: Selected Gifts from the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection” at the Phillips Collection
The Phillips Collection’s “Left Behind: Selected Gifts from the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection” has a promising theme—photographs of “unpopulated spaces in which a human presence is not evident but only implied.” But the selection by eight artists is uneven. The exhibit includes uncharacteristically uninspired works by otherwise talented artists—Vesna Pavlovic (a pair of drab examples from a generally impressive project documenting hotels built by Yugoslavia’s former Communist leadership) and Thomas Demand (images of a painstakingly constructed miniature grotto that’s unexpectedly bland when photographed). Darren Almond photographed his studio at regular intervals, then mounted the resulting 1,320 images, each with a slightly different hue of light, in an enormous matrix—a gambit that that is more interesting from a distance than up close. Jane and Louise Wilson offer a photograph less notable for its visuals than for the unlikelihood of its ever being made—an image of a darkly lavish corner of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas at a time when it's deserted. But the most impressive work comes from three artists. Frank Thiel’s image of buildings being constructed in Berlin in 1996 adapts the cool, pale palette, and industrial fascination of Edward Burtynsky, while Massimo Vitali offers a photograph of a miniature car ride at a Volkswagen plant in Germany that offers a bracingly disorienting contrast in scale. And Catherine Yass uses a suspended, moving camera to photograph an urban scene; the unpredictable movement creates an abstraction of lovely blue that improbably suggests a waterfall.
The exhibition is on view 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday to Oct. 2 at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW.