Artist’s Statement

My work features photographic memories and architectural fabrications, chronicling material culture and the experience of place. Weaving the contemporary visual world into art historical themes and compositions, I build digital montage images that derive from monumental altar pieces and architectural masterworks as well as the knick-knacks of civilization.

The process begins with photographing raw material, primarily in the urban environment, where aesthetic richness provides an endless palette of shape, texture and color. The huge collaborative creative effort that forms the shape of a city presents a visual record that is at once historical and current, as artifacts of our ancestors alongside the products of contemporary culture unfold.

I often shoot reflected images that catch gleams of light and layers of depth leaping from multifaceted forms, creating an interplay between positive and negative space, offering an illusion of penetrable and impenetrable space. Nature works its way in, anchoring layers of information as highlight or backdrop, direct or reflected, cultivated or wild.

My post-camera work involves constructing new forms which stretch the limitations of the camera’s format regarding framing and composition. This process allows me to vary perspective, creating spaces with perspectives of their own, where appearance bends to accommodate experience.

While photography is traditionally a narrative medium, I ask viewers to let go of the notion that a photograph is a picture of a particular thing, and to focus instead on the imagery that emerges from recomposed elements taking shape as an abstract visualization of thought.

Gwen Adler is a New York City based artist who holds a master’s degree in painting from New York University and an undergraduate degree in anthropology and photography from Washington University in St. Louis.

In addition to her career as an artist, Gwen has worked as a studio photographer and darkroom specialist, an art teacher, and a theatrical set and costume designer.


by Sandy Isenstadt

(President Society of Architectural Historians, Director Center for Material Culture Studies, Director Graduate Studies Art History Department University of Delaware)

One of the most surprising discoveries in the history of science has been the sheer beauty of naturally occurring structures, from diatoms and DNA to space nebula and trans-galactic super strings.  With advanced imaging techniques penetrating micro- and macro-worlds alike, scientists find complex entities are governed by simple geometric laws, as if the universe had been composed along aesthetic principles.  By engaging some of the compositional principles that scientists have learned guide nature itself, artist Gwen Adler proposes new modes of seeing-like, and seeming-like, science for the everyday world.

Ordinary scenes such as chairs in a show window appear in her work like sudden insights into new scales of life.  Her images conjure a sense of super-vision in viewers; the scene they see is not, say, a Soho street, but a living crystal at the moment it first precipitates from the void, a single cell trying hard not be another organism's breakfast, or the first crackling lines of force that will stretch over the course of eons into a sun.

With camera and digital tools, Adler reveals the immeasurable volume of information that was available to all of us just walking along the street, but that we were too busy or too distracted or too numb to notice. Perhaps most surprising, she does so not by cramming her images with restless piles of bric-a-brac.  Rather, Adler shows the geometric patterns that organize diversity, that, in fact, underpin diversity and prevent matter's collapse into chaos.  Science does this, too, teaches us to see, much as Darwin explained in such elegant terms how it was that the earth was teeming with intricately interwoven complex creatures each of which was intricately entangled in its environment.

Even a short time among her photographs empowers viewers by refreshing their vision.  Since each image has what might be called a narrative compositional trail, that is, tantalizing hints pointing toward starting forms, viewers find themselves engaged in an effort at visual decomposition.  Then, leaving the gallery, entering again into the world of ordinary perception, a viewer is tempted to look once more at that familiar scene, some furniture behind glass, say, or a building's lights at night, and try to replicate the folds, cuts, and rotations they followed just before.  The result is a new way of seeing the everyday environment, an eagerness to see the otherwise unseen laws that structure not only our daily world but the micro- and macro-worlds that sandwich us.