As cultural institutions begin re-opening regionally in response to COVID-19, the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery has followed suit with a secure and calculated caveat of its own. “Secure” because The Old Market venue opened its new exhibit, Monte Kruse: Night Light recently without the advantage of a pubic reception in deference to the known risks of the virus. And “calculated” because, regardless, patrons of Kruse’s popular and creative photography will want to view this new work, which continues until Sept. 27.
Photographer Monte Kruse’s current approach is described in the show’s title: his photographs of “familiar” Old Market and downtown locations were captured during the nighttime, which affected his photographic technique and visual output. The selected twenty-four images were taken over three years, throughout all four seasons and weather conditions. Yet, his work remains aesthetically consistent, with shades of reds and browns being the primary color tones in the images.
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A viewer can see all the hallmark’s of Kruse’s works in one photograph titled Ommmm Center Oct 9, 2018 10:42 p.m.. This building on 13th and Howard Street is only partially captured as an image of a decorative banner, which, since it swayed with the wind, is blurred. And since the image was captured after the sun set, the photograph is naturally darker and less saturated.
We can also see how specifically the artist approaches this series. Each title indicates the location where the photograph was taken, as well as the date and even exact minute. Kruse also toys around with the name of the location. In the photograph titled Ommmm Center… the organization’s real name, the OM Center, has been elongated and changed.
Other images indicate references to artists and paintings, like Hoppers Window 10th Street April 28, 2017 6:12 p.m. or Rothko OPPD 16th Howard Oct 15, 2017 10:44 p.m.. These titles may indicate what Kruse thought about when capturing the photos, or even what he wants the images to aspire too. Referencing Edward Hopper invokes the Realist art movement, while Mark Rothko recalls abstract paintings focusing on hazy blocks of color.
Some photographs focus more on color and environmental changes, like a diptych of two cloudscapes. These two vertical photographs are named Western Sky Allyway June 11, 2018 5:45 p.m. and 10-11th Howard Jan 10, 2020 11:06 p.m.. Western Sky stands out in the exhibition because of its strong use of dark reds in the sky’s clouds. The clouds in 10-11th Howard are less saturated in color, but still focus on the dramatic cloud movements in Omaha.
In all the images, the overarching goal to document every single facet of the location and date is almost photojournalistic. When speaking about the photograph Out My Window Bemis May 6, 2018 10:12 pm, Kruse said “it will never be seen or recreated like that again.” Part of noting what time the image was taken has two purposes; the first is so viewers can know when the images were taken, but the second and more important point is so viewers gets a sense of the fleeting nature of the scenes Kruse captures.
Kruse also focuses on memory and lived experience within his pictures, even though the majority of photos don’t have any people in them. That being said, in every image, there is the ghost of human activity, whether metaphorically or literally.
One such image with this residue is Night Watcher and Hannah’s Ghost Union Plaza 16th Jackson July 11, 2018 9:09 p.m.. This image appears like every other urbanscape in the gallery, with a view of a building and the night sky, but if one closely looks at the image, the clouds become figurative. Through some optical phenomena, the artist captured a shadow of a passerby in the sky. This figure looks down into the streets, almost like a supernatural deity.
While many of the images in the exhibition are very naturalistic, the artist had no intention of creating hyper-realistic works. Kruse purposefully wanted to create images that were more conceptual than literal. To do this, he used an inexpensive camera (although, this was so his more expensive equipment didn’t get damaged during harsh weather). His choice lead to some ethereal compositions, some so abstracted that they hardly resemble anything familiar despite their location.
One of these near abstract scenes is ConAgra Bridge June 28, 2017, 7:56 p.m. depicting a closeup of a metal bridge and its surrounding protective fence netting. Continuing in its thematically dark atmosphere, the composition’s colors are muted and practically monochromatic. This very tangible bridge becomes liquified; it’s solid metal skeleton supports a skin of billowing fencing, almost contradicting it’s protective purpose.
The most recognizable building in Omaha has also been captured and treated with Kruse’s aesthetic approach. Polar Vortex 1st National June 21, 2018 7:52 p.m. partially captures the top of the First National Bank tower wrapped in a foggy cloud. This image stands out because the building is not in the Old Market District, nor was it captured during the winter, so the title and building seem almost out of place in the series.
However, this image is grouped with a pair, titled Storm Totem 11 Leavenworth Feb 2, 2017 6:32 p.m.. Both images are associated with inclement weather through their titles and are tied together with their height.
A visitor ought to know that this exhibition only shows a part of the entire photographic series, with many images not on display. Kruse has no problem with this, since he is developing a book that mixes the images with writing. The very last two pages of the book have already been decided on: it will be an image of the buddha (not in the show), and the image of the OM Center. In fact, if one enters the gallery and starts on their left, walks through, and ends on the right they end on this billowing banner.
Monte Kruse: Night Light runs through September 27 in the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery, 1042 Howard Street. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from noon to 8:00pm and on Sundays from noon to 6:00pm. For further information, please contact 402.341.1877, email email@example.com, or visit the Garden of the Zodiac page on Facebook.