Adam Blumberg's show takes a closer look at the tiny details within photos that change the way we see them.
Adam Blumberg’s art is about many things, many related to the culture of small-town, Midwest America where he grew up. The objects, drawings and photographs in his solo show, Punctum(s), at Tiger Strikes Asteroid have an anthropological feel—a take on the informal modern tribes to which we all belong (motorcycle riders, protesters and shoppers, for example). It’s all a little elliptical, and while you don’t have to do the reading assignments (although Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida and George Baker’s October magazine essay “Photography Expanded” are both excellent reads), it may help to know the theoretical underpinnings to the works and the show’s title.
A punctum is a small detail in a photograph (intentional or not) that takes the viewer into a different subtext than the main subject. For example, a portrait may depict a face and body, but the dirt road in the distance—the punctum—adds a layer of reverie and intrigue, directing the viewer’s imagination elsewhere.
One photo, “Parking Lot, the Springfield Mile,” depicts some down time at a motorcycle rally in Southern Illinois. The shot, taken from above looking down on a small group in a parking lot, seems almost like a surveillance photo. It takes a second to zero in on what all the people congregated are doing—photographing and gawking at a bikini-clad blonde posing near a bike.
Another, “Logan,” portrays a young boy playing the electric guitar at night between a row of colorful cardboard boxes and a ground-based fireworks display. The low-angle shot captures so much information it takes a while to decide what is the focus—the boy, the guitar, the boxes, the fireworks, the inky sky or maybe those tiny sparks coming off the fireworks, alive with possibility. The photo embodies the spirit of small-town Yankee Doodle on the Fourth of July.
Blumberg, who studied art after switching from an engineering major, produced a few 3D examples of punctum with two “Signs of Protest”—cardboard, hand-lettered signs based on ones that scream their tiny messages in famous news photos of recent-vintage protests, bringing their own meaning to crowd shots. While Blumberg made the pieces for the show, under glass they look like pieces in a museum of the future documenting the current era. “Jump you Fuckers,” says one, from a Wall Street rally at the height of the financial meltdown. As punctum extricated from their photographic sources and made real, the signs hold your attention. You can imagine the protest, photo or not, and the words on the sign bring a power and meaning that the original photo might not have been aiming for.
Blumberg is an earnest young artist. He is himself a Harley motorcycle rider who has ridden with his father from St. Louis to the big rallies in South Dakota. Blumberg rides a non-motored cycle around Philadelphia, though—his Harley is parked in St. Louis.
The idea of surveillance or distanced observation runs throughout the show. But the eye here isn’t mocking, just a studious look at the world in which the artist travels. Many artists become detectives of a sort, looking under rocks and in bureau drawers to find out about life. Blumberg considers how we try, via the tiny punctum details of our lives and self-expression, to portray ourselves either as members of a group or not. And that’s worth thinking about.
Adam Blumberg: Punctum(s)
Through Sept. 26
Tiger Strikes Asteroid
319A N. 11th St, 4th floor