If you’ve been lamenting the crummy prizes in your crackerjack boxes lately, I’m sending you immediately to see Bedri Baykam’s show at Alphonse Berber Gallery on Bancroft Avenue in Berkeley. Here you’ll see the very latest cool gimmick in art. And imagine! It’s not even Made-in-the-USA! Artists have complained since the dawn of Modernism that “everyone’s looking for a gimmick.” Baykam has rediscovered the hook and charm of the original crackerjack-box mini 4-D images that, in the 1940s (a much less visually overstimulated age) fascinated the recipient of the delightful prize inside.
Through the use of lenticular technology (textured, see-through plastic, surface-plane layers) that makes images appear 3-D and mobile, the artist deploys his penchant for collage, impressive appreciation of art historical knowledge and compositional savvy to great advantage. When you walk a path parallel to one of these large-scale painting-like objects, you perceive each word and image from a variety of positions, since the multiple layers create illusions of motion and shape-shifting. As you amble to and fro, you are intrigued by the apparent unfurling of textual quotations. As if by magic, phrases grow and shrink while recognizable characters from familiar artworks of the past reveal their multiple “sides.” This newly refined, enlarged, and still powerful crowd-pleasing technology renews our faith that visual arts other than time-based media (film or video) can prolong our attention and deepen our encounters with individual works.
Baykam’s most recent works refresh the meaning of traditional concepts of “depth” in art. And their impact derives not only from neotech wizardry but also from their size, which provides viewers a chance to enjoy the illusive planes and movements on a scale as grand as European history paintings of the 18th century.
If you had followed Baykam’s trajectory from his native Turkey to Paris‚ Sorbonne to the Bay Area’s CCA, his latest moves would not surprise you. Since childhood he has demonstrated a proclivity for both technical precociousness and exploration. Studies from the CCA years reveal early developments that align him with the international Neo-Expressionist reaction to the constraints of Minimalism.
Baykam’s current experiments embed him once again in a rich vein of technical and formal innovations of a kind that can broaden the horizons of content as well. He’s begun to develop a model that delivers real advances in the field. I hope that before others exploit these ideas Baykam himself will further explore the opportunities that selective re-purposing of cultural symbols offers, focus on more nuanced appropriation, and use his considerable sensitivities to color to even better advantage. Welcome back to the Bay Area, Bedri! Don’t stay away so long next time!
Celeste Connor is an art historian, critic, theorist, visual artist and professor of visual studies at the California College of the Arts.