Image: Michael Krondl, Wave, digital photo on vinyl /  ©Michael Krondl    ©Black & White Gallery/Project Space

Image: Michael Krondl, Wave, digital photo on vinyl / ©Michael Krondl  ©Black & White Gallery/Project Space


"When you walk in there, it looks like three-quarters of an empty swimming pool outside these Malibu-suburban sliding glass doors," said Michael Krondl of Black & White Gallery's outdoor project space. "I thought, let's put people at the bottom of the swimming pool and then put them under some kind of threat." That threat turned out to be a two-story photograph of a breaking wave crashing through the back wall of the space. Printed on vinyl like a highway billboard, Krondl calculated the cropping and dimensions of the image for maximum trompe l'oeil effect, dissolving the boundaries of the space like a Baroque ceiling painting and inspiring a sense of awe and even primal fear. Krondl's desire for an immediate and emotional response to the work relates to the role of nature in his larger body of work. He uses images that elicit an irrational reaction in order to counter strains of conceptual art that posit a rigid split between intellectual and emotional responses, claiming that the approach discounts humans' connection to nature writ large. "Your first reaction is not an intellectual reaction," said the artist. "Your first reaction is an animal reaction." Through his work, Krondl attempts to undo the conceit that places humans above the natural world, a kind of arrogance that he insists leads to things such as global warming and rising sea levels. Of course, following an immediate reaction to the image, his work invites a string of political and ecological associations. Wave, in particular, was conceived shortly before the Asian tsunami, and the exhibition opened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While the artist didn't intend for the work to comment directly on either disaster—and was, in fact, wary of it becoming overly colored by those associations—both tragedies served to underscore the timeliness of Krondl's project.