Four kaleidoscopic images of the Wilderstein mansion in Rhinebeck float like bulbous X’s in a pale blue sky. This is a photograph by Aaron Yassin, from the “Remove the Landmark” exhibition opening at Gallery 384 in Catskill on June 21.
Yassin’s seven photographs depict monuments along the Hudson: the Boscobel House in Garrison, the Lyndhurst mansion in Tarrytown, the Fisher Center at Bard College (designed by Frank Gehry) and Olana, Frederic Church’s home near Hudson. Also, there are two bridges: the Mid-Hudson and the George Washington. Many of these edifices were built as part of the slow parade of monuments seen by steamboat in the 19th century. Today they seem like archaic remnants, though strangely bold and subtle. Curiously, none of the photos actually show the Hudson, although the light reflected from the river no doubt touches the images.
Numerous styles are present. Boscobel is Federal style, Lyndhurst is Gothic Revival, the Wilderstein Italianate, Olana “Persian fantasy,” the George Washington Bridge modern, the Fischer Center postmodern. “Remove the Landmark” is a tour of Western architectural history.
Yassin makes some of these buildings weightless; they rise into the expectant sky. He literally and figuratively turns a monument on its head. The Mid-Hudson Bridge transforms into a lovely, spidery square, like a lace handkerchief. “The structures become all of a sudden very active,” observes gallery director David Griffin. Within his work, one may “find” the original image, like locating the origin of a Shakespeare quotation.
An element of humor enters these photos, one that is not present in Yassin’s earlier Venetian series, an exploration of the architecture of the Queen of the Adriatic. Perhaps there is something inherently funny about the Hudson Valley?
When asked to enumerate his influences, Yassin cites Islamic ornamentation, Gothic stained glass, Buddhist mandalas, and numerous 20th-century artists: Charles Sheeler, Ad Reinhardt, Barnett Newman, Piet Mondrian, Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissitzky. Yassin’s own education was in painting and drawing, at the Art Institute of Chicago and American University in Washington, DC.
Since beginning these “photographic composites” (as he calls them) in 1997, Yassin has created images of the Eiffel Tower, the Prudential Building in Boston, and an impressive series on water towers.
“He’s very adept at visual puns,” observes Griffin. “For example, the Eiffel Tower: The way that he deployed it, it became, from a distance, a quatrefoil window from a Gothic cathedral. And of course, until the Eiffel Tower was built, the tallest thing in the Parisian skyline was Notre Dame. And there was a tremendous criticism and outcry because now you had this huge iron monster looming over the historic cathedral. So Yassin sort of fixed it.”
The most recent series emerged from an earlier work of Yassin’s—a transformation the central tower of Olana into a Persian tiled wall—that Griffin showed at Gallery 384. Griffin was excited by the response it received, and commissioned a series of images of significant Hudson River landmarks. He and Yassin began with a list of 30 monuments, then began eliminating.
Yassin admits that his process would be too difficult to achieve by hand. The technique is dependent on the esoteric mathematics of the computer. Effortlessly, he bends the immutable steel and stone of Hudson Valley monuments.
(Today, drugs are unnecessary! Photoshop is the LSD of 2008!)
Several of Yassin’s pieces are on display at exotic US embassies: in Qatar, Afghanistan and Bulgaria. All of these are images of American sites, reconfigured into designs influenced by Islamic art.
“Remove the Landmark” also includes photographs of temples and fortresses in China, Tibet, and Nepal by Cannon Hersey. They are glazed, and framed in bronze; some appear against antique silk panels from those countries.
“Remove the Landmark” will appear at Gallery 384, 384 Main Street, Catskill, from June 21 to August 9. A reception for the artists will be held on Saturday, June 21, from 5 to 9pm. (917) 674-6823; www.gallery384.com.