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Fuchs Projects Gallery: Telling Stories

By Jim Caton

A German documentary film on photographer Rafael Fuchs shows the New York artist and gallery owner walking the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn. He greets and is greeted by everyone, not with polite nods but with hearty handshakes and vibrant talk. Just watching him interact with his neighbors lets you know Fuchs, owner of Fuchs Projects Gallery, is an active participant in his environment- someone who affects it and who lets it affect him.

Fuchs's gallery features primarily photographic art, and he points out with pride that it is the only such gallery on the emerging Bushwick scene. "I focus on photography since this is the practice of my art since the 80's," says Fuchs, a graduate of the photography department of Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem. "Personally, my photography practices have been evolving from narrative images to more complex and layered works, based on photography, that tells a story." The layering Fuchs refers to takes many forms in his art, from the juxtaposition of images (e.g., the interplay between images of Hasidic men and nude women in his controversial collection 'LandLords') to relatively conventional superimposition, to complex relationships among candid and posed, black-and-white and color, Dali-esque trompe l'oeil and every conceivable technique of saturation and over- and under-exposure.

One result of this practice is that Fuchs's work defies our readily identifying a single style. A tour through his collections, however, gradually reveals a penchant for stark juxtaposition with crisp cropping edges, a flamboyance with the human form, and a subdued but pervasive sense of humor.

Born in Tel Aviv, Fuchs is now an avowed New Yorker, and like many artists, he is drawn irresistibly to the creative energy of the city. "Generally, most artists want to be in the center of where it's happening," he says. "In this regard , Bushwick right now is a very hot place for emerging artists and new galleries. I decided to open my own gallery after two solo shows that I had with two different galleries in Bushwick in 2006 and 2010. Both galleries closed their doors shortly after, and I was really disappointed. It wasn't the right time for the galleries to thrive in this area. Fast forward four years, I adapted the DIY motto, and created my own gallery."

It was in his former studio on Bleecker St., though, that Fuchs produced the photographs that have perhaps been his most controversial. Among his plainest, most conventional images, 'Twin Towers' depicts acquaintances of Fuchs's, who happened to be at the studio at the time, posed on the building's roof with the World Trade Center in the background, smoke billowing from what all present still presumed to be an accident. The attitudes of the subjects are variously serious and sanguine, with a kind of ironic detachment.

Many who viewed the photos at a show in 2012 challenged Fuchs on their appropriateness. Others have been grateful for the document. A case of shooting the messenger, perhaps, but Fuchs is the kind of engaged artist who relentlessly brings messages about his immediate surroundings, such as his photographs of fellow Israeli soldiers and Palestinian children from the early 1980s, and thereby whether he likes or intends it or not, inevitably courts controversy. Arguably, though, Fuchs's art defends itself ably with a clear-eyed but unwavering humanity.

It is his generosity of spirit and genuine love of artistic expression that characterizes Fuchs the gallery owner. Here he comments on his preference for representing younger artists.

"I love featuring emerging to mid-career artists. It fulfills me and give me a lot of pleasure to help emerging artists whose work I love, to achieve their goals, as well as introducing their work to a collector or a visitor at the gallery, that, obviously, has never heard about them." He thinks and adds, "The art of emerging artists is, a lot of times, purer than their work as they get more matured- at least during the very few years of their career. Before they evolve, they express themselves in a raw way, and sometimes they get a bit stiffer- until they break free again."

It is that idea of breaking free again that seems to drive Fuchs, and his escapes from formal and thematic monotony seem to come from his direct engagement with the physical world and community around him. Like most areas of life, the world of art and galleries forms an echo chamber. Sometimes buzzwords and catchphrases are exchanged in conversation like an inflated currency. Perhaps our society's endless, and endlessly ironic, reiteration of the injunctive "Think outside the box" best captures the claustrophobia these chambers- be they art galleries, sports talk shows or board meetings- can occasion.

At the heart of an echo, though, is an original utterance, something said with such purpose and force that it resounds in its environment. Ever attentive to the meeting-place of creativity and influence, Rafael Fuchs, the artist and the curator, is walking Brooklyn on a quest for the hearts of echoes.

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