In certain parts of the world, the mirror remains little more than a glassless piece of finely buffed metal. For every person who glances directly into its surface, it yields a new image. Centuries of art making have attempted to distill the mirror's alchemical power, address its ills, and play upon the noble verity of its reflections. To incant the myth of Narcissus, there is nothing perhaps more refined than a glossy monochromatic surface, polished to a high lustre. It is at this nexus when the baldly planar becomes reflective, where photography mimics painting and painting ever the clever elder mocks photography.

Bernhard Hildebrandt creates work at the centre of a conceptual duality between what is seen and what remains to be seen, between the static and streaming. In his Stereo series a painting and a photo of it, printed at an identical scale, are paired in diptych format. The viewer is caught stepping between the transient surface reflections playing out on polyurethane enamelled Plexiglas and the reflections captured in its alter-ego, the narcissistic photograph. Whether painted black or white, neither is fully prepared to withhold the light necessary to view it, and so we enter a world of shadows and dappled light.

Hildebrandt makes skilful short videos that rewind Rauschenberg's infamous erasure of a De Kooning drawing, slip into the smoke and mirrors of Cocteau's dreamscapes, and in general trick the eye into seeing what at first glance it does not or otherwise would not normally see. Influenced by nineteenth-century visual culture and the representation-shifting experiments of Joseph Kosuth, the furtive results are often self-reflexively slick propositions.

Steve Pulimood for SAATCHI ONLINE,"Critic's Choice", May 5, 2008




The American artist Bernhard Hildebrandt engages photography and its history by inflecting the manually made work of art through the mechanically made, reproducible image. One of the artist's primary series--panels that juxtapose an enamel painting and an identically scaled photograph of that painting--highlight the imperfect reality of representation and vision. In its first century photography was considered a controversial medium insofar as it threatened to incapacitate painting. Spanning the breach of this age-old conflict, Hildebrandt's diptychs appear to directly confront Schopenhauer's 1816 thesis that vision is a wholly subjective experience: No image is ever truly static in the mind's eye.

With a range of influences from the opticality of daguerreotypes to the de rigeur slickness of Gerhard Richter's painted surfaces, Hildebrandt's approach to art-making plays on the edge between the digital and the analog where conceptual and physical presence compete. While attempting to tame the disquiet beauty of darkness and light--photography's alpha and omega--the diversity of his output also offers several pleasurable sidelong glances at art history. A recent neon word sculpture, for example, is a punchy redress of Joseph Kosuth's polemical definitions of art and its constituents parts.

Bernhard Hildebrandt's art is a memento mori of vision, a carefully constructed reminder of the fallibility and impermanence of sight. It is as if without its viewers, the work ceases to exist and its perceptual 'moral' goes untold. Taken as a whole, his work consisting of painting, photography, video and neon--problematizes perception, memory and space while investigating the significance of authorship and authenticity.

Steve Pulimood



About the writer:
Steve Pulimood is currently a doctoral candidate in Art History at Oxford University, lives in New York and is writing his dissertation on Leonardo da Vinci. He has served both the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy and the Royal Collection in England. He has written for Saatchi Online and frequently publishes criticism on contemporary art for Interview Magazine online, Art in America online and New York Times online. Mr. Pulimood received his undergraduate degree in art history at Columbia University, New York.








*page last updated September 10, 2009