It is imposing: a huge photomontage of the Brooklyn Bridge fish-eyeing out from a pair of loafers at the frame’s bottom to the soaring cables above. The work is so huge it leans, slanting against the wall because the ceiling is too low. In many ways this collage echoes its subject, that great span of American ingenuity—a swath of stone and steel engineering transcending its utilitarian purpose to become jingoistically monumental. Both the bridge and the collage confound attempts to fully comprehend them. One rises inexplicably from the depths of the East River to connect the disparate pieces of a metropolis. The other explodes in a flurry of images that flow or crash into each other to create a giant whole.
No matter how one stands, neither can be fully taken in at one glance. Yet, when the depths of each are plumbed, David Hockney’s version of the bridge turns out to be a chasm, while the towering suspension project is limited to the shallows of mathematical dogma. Hockney’s photomontage is an exploration of time, not merely a conglomeration of interlocking parts. This work is one whole, but that whole comprises slices of time. Each of the dozens of photos is the representation of a split second sandwiched between other split seconds. On the right, cars speed past each other in a seemingly normal scene until one realizes that the vehicles were likely not on the bridge simultaneously. This realization then causes the viewer to question his or her perception of what is static and what is dynamic. While facilitating the movement of thousands of people, the Brooklyn Bridge stands as an immovable piece of engineering. Indeed the stones and the steel of the structure are constantly changing with light and time and the experiences of the people moving across the bridge or coming to see it. Seeing this imposing piece that stands beyond the human scale the eyes cannot fully appreciate the whole. One is literally forced to constantly examine each corner and crevice, to find surprises, to think. Staring at David Hockney’s photomontage makes one question what one thinks they know about time, about dynamism, about motion. Is something inanimate merely because it does not move? Can hundreds of different seconds fit together to encompass a single moment? How much does art truly reflect its subject?
Nick Chanin ’11