Nestor Kruger (1999)
“Nestor Krüger,” C Magazine, no. 63 (September – November 1999), p.42.
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Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Ostensibly, the ideal place from which to view Nestor Kruger’s trompe l’oeil wall-painting, Habit’s Return (in the AGO’s “Present Tense” project series) is from outside the space where it is presented. From a particular vantage point in one of the preceding galleries, Kruger’s painting exactly fits the doorway it faces, offering the illusion of a cluttered storage closet – which is the effect he intended. However, this depiction of storage boxes, coat stands, etc., lifted as it is from a computer imaging programme, already has something unreal about it. As we enter the room, the illusionistic jumble of objects dissolves into flat, hard-edge planes rendered in a grey scale. By painting an image directly on the wall, Kruger has mapped the virtual onto the actual, a procedure that seems of the moment but that defines traditional illusionistic painting.
Habit’s Return exposes the museum to its future condition of virtuality while recalling its past in the allegorical programmes of European palaces where, important as its role was, painting was subordinate to architecture. While the people’s palace of the museum stripped away the allegorical wall paintings, it maintained the palace’s architectural structure, known as enfilade, where each room follows on an axis from the last. Kruger’s installation is dependent on the viewpoint this procession makes possible. His illusionistic intervention suggests that the museum – perhaps in its rush to house its collection in the spaceless virtuality of the Internet – is a dead-end warehouse no different from Citizen Kane’s cultural plunder left in its crates.
Invoking his paintings' virtuality with their sources in computer imagery (computer schemas are housed in a vitrine inside the gallery), Kruger reinforces their remove. (A second painting, a similarly treated impression of the window opposite, visible once inside the gallery, could only be seen in the same manner as the doorway painting from outside the building—an impossibility.) By suggesting that his paintings be viewed from outside the space, Kruger intended the gallery to refer to the privacy of the artist’s studio. The schemas and the grisaille paintings would then be mockups for a future exhibition.
An earlier wall painting at Cold City Gallery, Averaging (1998), was based on Kruger’s height and line of vision. At the AGO, the viewer assumes a similar role of construction if he or she occupies that ideal place from which to view the work. However, we are not informed of this vantage point as we pass through the galleries. As we walk towards the doorway image something happens that Kruger cannot control: past the ideal point of view, the painting begins to recede into the wall instead of projecting in front of it. This does not seem to be a problem for our interpretation of Kruger's work.
Since there is no correct distance to regard the illusion, perspectival mastery dissolves into the specifics out of which these paintings are fabricated: the conditions of viewing were the paintings' criteria of making. Kruger has intelligently sited painting in a complex conjunction of practice and institution, past and future.