Hans Breder

BY Jean Dykstra, February 29, 2016

The German-born artist Hans Breder arrived at the University of Iowa, via New York City, in 1966 and two years later founded the influential Intermedia and Video Art Program there. Breder wanted to create a program where students could combine and transcend the separate disciplines of painting, sculpture, video, photography, and performance art. The teacher, mentor, and longtime romantic partner of the late Cuban-American performance artist Ana Mendieta, Breder was also interested in the body art emerging out of  that period, and from 1969 to 1973, he combined photography with sculpture, performance, and body art in a series of works collectively titled Body/Sculptures. A selection of those images are on view at the Danziger Gallery’s new Lower East Side location, 95 Rivington Street, through April 2.

In these black-and-white prints, Breder’s nude subject (or subjects) poses with a mirror, so that limbs and torsos are doubled in its reflection, and four-legged creatures are born. His subjects are often situated in natural settings: on the beach, in the water or the woods; though he also photographed them in a bare studio setting. The “tricks” of the mirror are not concealed in any way, but we still allow ourselves, willingly, to be drawn into Breder’s strange and fragmented physical space.

There are echoes in Breder’s work of Hans Bellmer’s 1936 surrealist series La Poupée (The Doll), in which he created a life-size female form that could be taken apart and reassembled into a series of contorted, fragmented figures. Breder’s Body/Sculptures also recall Bill Brandt’s distorted nudes from the 1950s, and even John Coplans’s self-portraits of his own nude body. Breder’s use of mirrors, though, was uniquely disorienting, and his photographs not only dissolve the borders between artistic disciplines, but also the border between reality and fantasy.