Through Sept. 4. The Galerie St. Etienne, youthstyle.gseart.com
When everything closed in March, Galerie St. Etienne was just about to hang its spring show, “‘Youth Style’: Austrian and German Posters From the Collection of Merrill C. Berman.” A group of 46 pre-World War I rarities, the posters exemplify Jugendstil, or youth style, the German-speaking world’s answer to Art Nouveau. (Mr. Berman has been gathering them for decades, ever since a financial reversal forced him to stop collecting paintings.) Luckily the very same qualities that make for an effective poster — sharp edges, bold colors and graphic economy — work beautifully on a computer screen, so the gallery uploaded an extensive exhibition website, instead.
Of course, those same technical constraints that help the posters translate to the internet also narrow their aesthetic range. But a narrow format can still, like the internet itself, host a teeming variety. Just compare Bertold Löffler’s flowery come-on for the Austrian national lottery to the arresting image of a dragon ensnared that Julius Klinger used to sell war bonds. Several announcements for the Vienna Secession, an innovative artists’ group that closely tracked the development of Jugendstil, are included, too, and they give a sense of the movement’s own surprising range: Lithe figures and otherworldly asymmetry in Gustav Klimt’s version (1898) give way to the buoyant geometry of Adolf Boehm (1902), the melodrama of Franz Wacik (1913) and the nauseous, off-kilter intensity of Egon Schiele (1918). But you may prefer to simply marvel at the contemporary zip of the stripped-down, iconic branding exercises that Lucian Bernhard called “object posters.” In one, a fiercely sharpened pencil point underscores the name Castell; in another, a shiny black pump slightly overlaps the name Stiller.
The arrival of the coronavirus in New York was marked by a paradox: As many people stayed home in social isolation, the days seemed to blend together, yet outside spring was coming. The world was turning, even as it felt like it was standing still.
The artworks in the group exhibition “The Tree of Life” speak to this strange experience of time and nature, although they weren’t made in response to the pandemic. Videos with a meditative, almost existential quality — they don’t tell stories or have destinations, only droning loops and gradual shifts that require sustained attention.
“Timegarden 02” (2005), the contribution of the artist Claudia Hart, who is also the show’s curator, is an hourlong depiction of the seasons changing in a digital, circular garden. As the camera rotates, leaves turn from green to yellow to brown, but it’s impossible to pinpoint specific moments of the shift, producing a gap between sight and perception. Marina Zurkow’s “Mesocosm (Wink, TX)” (2012) — a hand-drawn, generative animation that portrays the enigmatic landscape of a sinkhole in a Texas town — has a similar effect. Little happens in the traditional narrative sense, yet eight months go by in 50 minutes.
The exhibition contains a handful of less engaging works but coheres into something compelling. One of my favorites, Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn’s “The Endless Forest” (2006/2020 — ongoing), is an unwinnable video game: The players are deer, and the only goal is to wander through a forest. Maybe we need the virtual world to help us rethink what we consider natural.