"Viktor Koen"
By Louis Jacobson
© Washington City Paper
Thursday, May 13, 2005.

Last summer, when Viktor Koen made a fleeting appearance in a Fraser Gallery Bethesda group show, his Fritz Lang–style renderings of flesh and machine—and his Kafkaesque portrayals of part-men-part-insects—were so creepy and bizarre that they were positively refreshing.

Now, Koen has a solo show at Fraser’s Georgetown outpost — his first in the United States outside of New York and Los Angeles — and though the artist has kept the surreal vibe strong, he’s dialed down the creep factor just a tiny bit. For "Vanity Studies," a series of still lifes modeled on 17th-century vanitas paintings, the Greek-born, New York–based Koen used a flatbed scanner rather than a traditional camera to capture images of objects—fruits, dolls, mechanical items, feathers, ivy, and a recurring bird skull.

Because the images are digital and easily manipulated, Koen is able to superimpose some objects upon others so that they appear to occupy the same space: disembodied teeth sunk into an ornate picture frame, animal bones seemingly stuck lengthwise into a pear. In this series, Koen creates a claustrophobic universe of shadows, inky blacks, and glossy surfaces rather than the newsprinty, constructivist feel of his works from last year.

But the meaning of Koen’s works remains a tough nut to crack. The exception is when he keeps it simple, as in the clever Vanity Study No. 12 (pictured). In it, an erect flower is captured à la Karl Blossfeldt or Tom Baril, but with one curving edge of its petal broken off, as if it were a piece of crumbling alabaster. As the French might pun, it is a perfect nature mort.

The show is on view from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and from noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays, to Wednesday, May 18, 2005 at the Fraser Gallery, 1054 31st St. NW. Free. (202) 298-6450. (Louis Jacobson)

Louis Jacobson

© Copyright 2005 Washington City Paper