In Thomas Zummer’s partial retrospective of works I should have done, on view at PNCA’s Philip Feldman Gallery, things are not what they seem. For starters, the show is more replete than it sounds. The Brooklyn-based writer, artist, teacher, and curator presents an assortment of drawings, prints, and sculptures spanning his career. The pieces are a motley crew: portraits of robots butt against blurred, interstitial screenshots from well-known films. What binds the show is a sense of translation, addressing the reception and evolution of images rather than their making–an aesthetic further hinted at by Zummer’s titles, which have been scrawled in pencil on the gallery wall.
Zummer often blurs mediums, leaving no real distinction between a drawing and a photograph. Photorealistic drawings done in carbon, pencil, and pigment dominant the show. The stark, monochromatic photorealism recalls Gerhard Richter and Luc Tuymans, except that in place of their grim imagery, there is often humor. In a sculptural piece titled “An Essay on Potatoes”—an essay literally written on potatoes—Zummer’s scrawls highlight the position of potatoes in past philosophical texts.
All images in the show refer to another source; all are translations of an initial image, a fact made clear in the titles—specifically in a portrait of experimental filmmaker Leslie Thornton, called “Drawing of a Photocopy of a Laminated Passport Photo.” This copy of a copy is hazy and painterly due to all of its iterations. As with much of Zummer’s work, the viewer’s awareness is most attuned to the space between the initial capturing of the image and the reception of the image. To bring home the point, Zummer includes a series of archival inkjet prints featuring interstitial frames from movies like Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and Tokyo Decadence.
Pieces also exist in odd locations within the gallery. One framed work, “Stupid Scrabble”—a collection of Scrabble tiled full of words like “duh,” “err,” and “oops”—is mounted on a door within the gallery. Labels for pieces exist as paragraphs of text, which sit, unassuming, on the floor, forcing you to stoop in order to identify the work. Drawing on the framework of ‘60s Conceptualisms, ome pieces are entirely made of texts, such as one piece titled, “Drawing of a photograph of a text taken in the dark (paronomasia no. 2).”
Similar to the probing questions brought on by the Conceptual movement (i.e. “What is Art”), Zummer’s work investigates and interrogates, inquiring how we consume images, and how we create them. How much of an image is created by technology, and how does that contribute to the meaning of the image? In what ways are images passed down within our culture and what is lost in this passage? And, ultimately, at what point do these captured moments stop being copies, and start being our reality?