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Art in America

Brian Tolle at Basilico Fine Arts – New York, New York

Janet Koplos

In “Overmounted Interior,” Brian Tolle’s first solo, the gallery was altered by his installation of a huge brick fireplace, massive ceiling beams and four leaded-glass windows providing views not of the streets of SoHo but of charming rural roads and orchards. These few simple elements were enough to create the effect of a low, dark, heavy-beamed Colonial interior, even if it was immediately apparent that nearly everything was fake. The too-shallow fireplace and the impossibly huge beams were made of carved and painted Styrofoam, and the windows were light boxes reproducing hand-colored photos from an old, romanticizing Colonial Revival book.

 In the instance of the windows, which had real wood frames, diamond-shaped leading and wrought-iron hooks for the casements, Tolle most clearly spoke of craftsmanship in its traditional forms. The quality of illusion in the beams and fireplace was also impressive: the beams showed giant knots and the raised-grain texture that comes with weathering; the fireplace reproduced the mottled color of used brick and sooty darkness in the baking niches. It was all very well done.

Accomplishing the fakery, which was mostly a matter of separating craft from natural materials and practical purposes, and bending it to creation that doesn’t quite fool the eye but nevertheless impresses the mind, seems the result of a distinctly postmodern consciousness. Indeed, gallery information revealed that disjunction is precisely what interests Tolle. His theatricality elicited a strong sensory response to his created environment while maintaining an almost Brechtian foregrounding of his manipulation. So the installation, for all its structural presence, moody shadows and idyllic views, held in abeyance the genuine experience of a place or a time. By addressing the layering of our perceptions of the past, Tolle illustrated our estrangement from it.