Thumbing through Arnold Odermatt’s startling photographs of highway accidents collected in Karambolage, his first book, is a little like watching the sequence of road horrors in Jean-Luc Godard’s surrealistic film Weekend. The camera’s impassive view makes you increasingly eager, without shame, for the next wreck.
A policeman in Switzerland’s Nidwalden canton for 40 years, Odermatt took his pictures mostly as investigative material, waiting until the ambulances removed the injured or dead; unlike others who have recorded the aftermath of violence, he wasn’t reaching for any obvious pathos. In this small exhibit—which includes 10 prints and the photographer’s three books—the bloodless, black-and-white scenes (shot between the late 1940s and early ’80s) don’t reveal the human toll. Instead, more like forensics, they simply chart the vicissitudes of Fate, the coincidence of crossed trajectories. A Saab dangles precariously on a guardrail, with only its rear wheels preventing a plunge into the lake below. Skidmarks, outlined in police chalk, describe the path a VW Beetle took before its collision with a tractor. In Karambolage, where you’ll find the most astonishing images, a Mercedes sedan has been impossibly, and literally, wrapped around a telephone pole.
The central appeal of this work may be the spectacle of anonymous tragedy. But Odermatt’s studious formality lends these accidents, even those that clearly involved fatalities, a strangely elegiac—and decidedly discomfiting—beauty.
Laurent Millet: ‘The Last Days of Immanuel Kant’
French artist Laurent Millet states that the inspiration for his charmingly odd sculptures was Thomas De Quincey’s 1827 pseudo-memoir about Immanuel Kant’s last days, an essay based on the actual memories of the philosopher’s assistant—a series of connections that may strike you as a circuitous joke. But then, consider that (1) Millet’s fanciful constructions could suggest Kant’s end-of-life delusions, and that (2) De Quincey’s double-remove from his subject parallels the fact that Millet presents only photographs of sculptures in this show. If you still sense a bit of malarkey, it’s because you’re dealing with an intellectual clown, a bel esprit who likes to toy with your perception.
Many of the photographed works here, assembled from the simplest of material, riff on Escher’s visual tricks. In Calmez Vous Mr. Kant, squiggly lines connecting colored squares seem to be drawn on the wall, but they’re actually wires tied to cubes. Elsewhere, the exquisite shading of an all-white work refines a similar illusion: A spiky paper polyhedron, resting on a table while tethered by string to the ceiling, appears to exist either in a dreamy 3-D world or in a flattened one you’d swear was painted.
Unconnected to Kant, the delightful Les Vacances de Dusseldorf playfully pays homage to Bernd and Hilla Becher’s images of German industrial architecture. Painting directly on photographs taken of wire that’sbeen cleverly arranged on a wall, Millet has made it seem as if childlike drawings of homes are floating like balloons. The show will leave you feeling happily buoyant, too. Robert Mann Gallery, 210 Eleventh Ave, 212-989-7600. Through July 9
Darren Almond: ‘Sometimes Still’
If you run an Olympic marathon on a hundred consecutive days, you will have completed only the basic training for Kaihogyo, the ridiculously difficult path to enlightenment stipulated by the Tendai sect of Buddhist monks. Residing near Kyoto on Mount Hiei, just 46 of them have ever completed the challenge over the last four centuries, and no wonder: By the end of the seven-year ordeal, they’re supposed to be covering 50 miles a day on foot, up and down the mountain in long robes, no less.
You can experience part of the effort yourself in Darren Almond’s Sometimes Still, a 25-minute video that follows one of these monks ascending a trail in the dark. With several screens arranged roughly along vanishing-point lines, the installation immerses you in a spooky forest with a ghostly, white-robed figure, and effectively borrows low-budget horror-flick effects (à la The Blair Witch Project) to make a somewhat tedious journey dramatic: single-point illumination (a lantern), a jittery handheld camera, first-person POV, an eerie soundtrack, and swirling footage shown in its nightmarish negative. When the nameless monk takes a breather at the summit, where he chants a long prayer, you share both his physical relief and the moment’s spiritual calm. Matthew Marks, 523 West 24th, 212-243-0200. Through June 26