John Divola
'Isolated Houses'
Janet Borden
560 Broadway, at Prince Street
Through Feb. 3

John Divola's expansive color photographs of small isolated houses in the California desert have a travel magazine-style beauty. In each, big, lush blue skies, distant mountains that in some cases could have been painted by Maxfield Parrish, and richly textured foregrounds of rubble and shrubbery set the stage for the central image of a humble one-story house. Some of the houses are painted improbably bright colors - pink, turquoise or mint green - like Florida beach cabins.

Documentary interest overrides the aesthetic impact, however. For titles, Mr. Divola uses notations of longitude and latitude - e.g., N3414.383'Wll614.758' - that lend his project a quasi-scientific air. (Cataloging photographic projects by Ed Ruscha or Bernd and Hilla Becher come to mind.) The viewer wonders about the facts. Who lives in these curiously diminutive buildings? What's it like inside?

But since the photographs do little to answer such questions, their effect is ultimately more poetic than journalistic. Exuding a dry, windswept loneliness, each seems to have its own story of failure and survival to tell. The houses become poignant metaphors of the Romantic self, withdrawn from the comforts of society, nakedly exposed to nature and the cosmos.

New York Times 1/19/01