Saturday, July 4, 2015

Galerie Dennis Cooper presents ... Arnold Odermatt's Car Wrecks

'Once upon a time, there was a Swiss policeman named Arnold Odermatt, whose photographs long went unnoticed, but who then achieved international recognition when the photographer himself was past retirement age. Born into a family of eleven children in the canton of Nidwalden in 1925 – his father was a forester – Arnold Odermatt initially apprenticed as a baker and pastry cook. He was forced to leave that profession, however, because of an allergy, and by chance he ended up joining the cantonal police, where he spent the next forty years. He was responsible in particular for road safety in this little canton isolated in the middle of Switzerland, hemmed in by the Alps and Lake Lucerne.

'At the age of ten, Arnold Odermatt won a camera in a competition and taught himself how to use it, which grew into what can only be called a passion for photography. He took his twin-lens Rolleiflex with him wherever he went, photographing the people and landscapes of the region and later his wife and children. He also incorporated photography into his day-to-day work, using it to document traffic accidents, which were quite common at the time.

'However, Odermatt’s hobby was met with indifference by those around him, and for fifty years he captured tens of thousands of images which, carefully stored and organized, languished in his attic, until one day in the early 1990s, his son, Urs Odermatt, himself a director and filmmaker, came upon them. The retired policeman’s photographs were published in a book edited by his son, and recognition for the work grew steadily. Exhibited in 1998 at police headquarters in Frankfurt am Main during the Frankfurt Book Fair, the black and white images of vehicles damaged in accidents caught the attention of the celebrated curator Harald Szeemann, who showed them at the Venice Biennale in 2001. From that point on, the Swiss policeman’s photographs were internationally acclaimed. Three books were published by Steidl, one of the most prominent publishers in the photography world, and his images were exhibited by numerous museums and galleries in Europe and the United States.

'All of the prerequisites were in place for the creation of an ‘Odermatt legend’ that would be especially attractive to the contemporary art world. Like Eugène Atget, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, and Miroslav Tichý, Odermatt belongs to that special category of ‘outsiders’ discovered late in life, cut off from the art world and unconcerned with concepts or declarations of intent. As a figure of ‘artistic innocence,’ he compels us to question the shifting boundaries between art and non-art, between art and art brut or ‘outsider art.’ Arnold Odermatt’s work is difficult to categorize because it seems to include both applied professional photography when he is ‘on duty’ as well as amateur photography when he is ‘off duty.’ What is certain is that the power and originality of his images, in contrast with his complete absence of formal artistic training and his long isolation, problematize what may be called ‘artistic intention’ and its role in the quality of the images produced. Is a self-taught photographer with no formal training who has never called his images ‘art’ therefore devoid of Kunstwollen? Because it is so difficult to make assumptions about intentions that are not expressed as a conceptualized and verbalized desire to ‘make art,’ I will consider the unrecognized character of Arnold Odermatt’s practice, but will do so without using terms like ‘naïve’ or ‘outsider,’ which are too fraught with connotations and too reductive. In what follows, I will suggest that these belatedly recognized artists be referred to as unsanctioned artists (artistes non-homologués). This term is an indirect reference to one of Dubuffet’s earliest essays on art brut; it makes it possible to group together the various ‘irregular’6 practices by virtue of their contrast with official art world channels, without, however, stigmatizing them by setting up a dualism in which art is opposed to non-art. The term ‘sanction’ signals official recognition, but does it alter the nature of what it consecrates?

'The contrast between images that satisfy the art world’s expectations in terms of their quality and a photographer who stubbornly refused to seek any kind of critical recognition for his work seems to endow Odermatt’s practice with an obvious appeal as something ‘instinctive’ and ‘authentic.’' -- Caroline Recher


Arnold Odermatt Website
AO @ Galerie Springer
'Arnold Odermatt – Beyond the Seven Mountains'
'Karambolage (Smash-up)'
AO reviewed @ Frieze


Arnold Odermatt - Die Ästhetik der Karambolage

Arnold Odermatt - Rasthaus

Arnold Odermatt und John Waters - Fotomuseum Winterthur

Trailer: 'Crash Course: The Accidental Art of Arnold Odermatt'

Other works


'Arnold Odermatt the Nidwalden Police in 1948. He was forced to give up his original career as a bakery and pastry chef on health grounds. As the policeman Arnold Odermatt first appeared with his Rolleiflex at the scene of an accident – to provide photos to complement the police report, people found this rather disconcerting. At that time, photography was anything other than an independent means of providing the police with evidence.

'A colleague observed Arnold Odermatt as he took pictures for the force and was suspicious. He was ordered to report to his commander immediately. Odermatt managed to convince his superiors of the pioneering work he was doing. They allowed him to convert an old toilet in an observation post in Stans into a makeshift dark room. When the observation post was moved into another building several years later, Switzerland’s first police photographer was given his own laboratory.

'Arnold Odermatt's biggest role model was the famous Magnum photographer Werner Bischof. He met him once by chance, as he was on security duty on the Bürgenstock and wanted to photograph Charlie Chaplin. Odermatt's own style was characterised by sobriety and authenticity. The spartan linguistic expression of his police reports can also be found in Odermatt’s images. His craftsmanship is beyond question, nothing of note is missed by his photographic eye. In KARAMBOLAGE, his most famous series of work, you can’t see the maimed victims but you do see the ethereal, surreal sculptures of scrap metal. With the softness and melancholy of Jacques Tati, he looks at the consequences of speed and the hectic nature of modern times.

'For 40 years, Arnold Odermatt captured the daily work of the Nidwalden police force. It was only rarely that the local press, the court or an insurance company were interested in his photos. It was only when his son, the film and theatre director Urs Odermatt, showed the photos in for the first time at a solo exhibition in Frankfurt am Main that the art scene first became interested in his work. After the inspiring exhibition, the photo book Meine Welt followed. Suddenly the everyday observations from the central Swiss province had gained the same status as those of his well-travelled predecessor, Werner Bischof.

'At an early stage in his police career, when Arnold used the camera to catalogue traffic accidents, this was a revolutionary innovation in the Swiss police. If Arnold Odermatt were to turn up at a crime scene with his camera today, he could expect to be told that photography was not for him, but was instead the job of a specially trained police photographer.' -- collaged



p.s. Hey. Warning: Back pain inside and a billion muggy degrees outside. ** James, Hi. Yeah, my back has been my Achilles heel since I was a kid, and it's rebelling right now like it occasionally likes to do. Thanks much for the love and healing stuff! Love, me. ** David Ehrenstein, Yes, in fact I had a link to your excellent Duras piece in the post. I'll pass long your AFA urging for those who might be there. Everyone, Mr. Ehrenstein has a high recommendation for those of you in or near NYC. Here he is: 'This July and August Anthology Film Archives is featuring a series of screening entitled "One Film Wonders." Needless to say The Night of the Hunter will be shown (August 13, 16th and 18th) but also such rare gems as Nothing Lasts Forever -- which I featured on a "Petit Mac Mahon" awhile back but has since been pulled from You Tube. Then there's Isidore Isou's lettrist classic Venom and Eternity (July 17 and 22) Gavin Lambert's very Paul Bowles-like Another Sky (July 16 and 19), Wynn Chamberlain's Brand X with Taylor Mead (July 17 and 23). Wynn gave me a tab of Owsley's once -- the best/worst acid trip I ever had. Kenneth MacPherson's Borderline with Paul Robeson and H.D. (July 18 and 20) and last but not least Timothy Carey's The World's Greatest Sinner July 18 ad 23rd. Be there or be square.' ** Steevee, Hi. Yeah, the pain killers help somewhat, but I hate pain killers, so I'm taking them only when it becomes unbearable or if I have to go out into the world and do stuff. I'm using leftovers that I got in Iceland the last time my back turned asshole-ish. But you can buy a form of codeine over the counter here in Paris, believe it or not. Well, I hope your doctor's powers of prediction were spot on. How are you doing? ** Kier, Hey, bud. Yeah, my back does this to me once in a while. I grew really fast when I was 10 years old, and my spinal cord is too separated, and that cursed me lifelong with a crappy back, bleah. Oh, no, you're still fucked up too? Do take it easy. I'm trying to myself, but I'm an energetic guy, so it's hard to be mellow. England was a lot of fun except for the heat, but it didn't ruin anything. Maybe Silje was playing hide and seek with you? Nice about the loft! And kind of nice too about the hickeys, no? Mostly, I mean? Northern Norway sounds so dreamy, in general but especially whilst stuck in this gross Paris heatwave. Fingers very crossed about Denmark! Wow, your not feeling good aside, that was a pretty sweet report! Cool! Me? Uh, yesterday was weird for the back-related issue and also because one of the stars of Gisele's and my new piece 'The Ventriloquists Convention' had a heart attack. He's okay, but we had to cancel the premiere next week. He and the doctors think he'll be ready to work again by the next dates in Hamburg. But that was intense. He's one of the very main people in the piece, and, because of the way the piece was created, which was through improvising with the cast to create the dialogue and etc., we can't replace him. So, that was a crisis, and kind of still is. Other than that, I didn't do a ton for pain-and-impairment-related reasons. And extreme heat reasons. I'm hoping to get out and maybe see some art today, if my medication's help is forthcoming. Have a weekend full of vastly improved physical feeling, and tell me what was what please! Love, me. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. It's a wonderful novel, and it's also really short. Thanks for the psychics hugs. Hopefully, I'll be approaching right as rain status by Monday. Sorry about your concurrent heatwave. That show looks interesting. Diggerland was a ton of fun. What a strange place. It was incredibly hot, but, on the plus side, that kept the attendance way down. There was a period of a couple of hours when we were literally the only people in the amusement park. Alton Towers turned out to be 3 1/2 hours by train from London, which was way, way too far for our brief visit. Next time. ** Rewritedept, Hi, man. Things are good, just fucked by my physical issues at the moment and the theater piece mess I mentioned to Kier, etc. London plus Kiddiepunk was a lot of fun. Very cool that 'Hey Ma ...' is reaching its conclusion and birth! Oh, yeah, shit, my address. I'll remember to send it. Uh, the drawing ... I liked it. Poems? No, I haven't read them. I will as soon as I have the cognizance to do so respectfully. ** Thomas Moronic, Thanks, T. Cool, cool, I'm with you, obviously, on the Duras. Have a splendid weekend, please, and may we both get some cooling down relief. ** Postitbreakup, Hi, Josh. No, I didn't hear about that playthrough video, but I've naturally been very, very curious about what that game would have been. Thank you a lot! I'll spread the boon. Everyone, fine d.l. Postitbreakup passes along a very cool thing if you like. Here he is to explain and offer a link: 'hey, you've probably already heard about this, but this is a really good playthrough video without annoying commentary of the tragically canceled before release PS4 silent hill game that guillermo del toro was going to do. it's not quite like other silent hill games (it was a demo called P.T. for "player test"; it's unknown how much the final game would have been like the other silent hill games vs this demo) but it's really cool and gives that silent hill feeling but is also even more than the other games just like watching a 1st-person horror movie.' Thank for the well wishes! Love, me. ** Kyler, Hi, K. Thank you. Oh, that dreaded banjo band is still on the prowl. So sorry. RS is moving to New Orleans? Hm. Well, why not, I guess. A little delayed is too bad, but hopefully little is the operative word, and I'm sorry about that too. Have a good weekend. ** Armando, Hi, man. Yeah, I have written that way even since 'SAFE', although the 'My Mark' part was written first and the rest of 'SAFE' was written later, so the structure there was devised based on 'My Mark' already existing. Well, for 'MLT', I devised a structure that was more hidden inside the novel than my structures usually are. It's the only one of my novels that I wrote from start to finish. That was part of the structure/experiment, to let the 'story' unfold and create itself in a normal narrative way. I had a ton of plans and schemes and stuff, too many to remember off the top of my head. Like ... I wanted it to be a cross between a documentary and a Terrence Malick film. I thought those two things, which would never work together, made for an interesting challenge. But, yeah, I had a shitload of pre-exisiting rules and plans that I was working with. No, my injury isn't serious. It happens to me every once in a while. I just have to take it easy-ish and bear with pain for a bit, and then it will go away. Best wishes to you too! ** H, Thank you. Uh, ha ha, that's perfectly okay about missing saying Happy Father's Day, ha ha. What a strange idea and an interesting dream. ** Right. I like Odermatt's police car wreck photos a lot, and I thought I would place them before you so that you could see what you think. See you on Monday.