View current page
...more recent posts
I gave Richard Prince a hard time in that last post--yeah, really threw a spanner in his career path--but I like his work, just not those upstate NY photos. The framed celebrity pics and collectibles in a recent Barbara Gladstone show (hmm, a lot of black and white there) were smart and hilarious. Also, he has a great "cranky man" interview in the March 2003 Artforum. Here are some excerpts:
Did you feel a kinship to the artists in the "Pictures" show?
I've never said this before, but Doug Crimp actually asked me to be in that show. I read his essay and told him it was for shit, that it sounded like Roland Barthes. We haven't spoken since.
Do you think the critics [in the '80s] understood what you were doing?
I wasn't aware that there was much critical writing in the '80s about my work. I think people were more focused on David Salle, Schnabel, Fischl, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer.
Well, I remember one person gushing about your work's "complete eventlessness."
That sounds like cartoon language. Kind of like when Susan Sontag describes taking a photograph as a "soft murder."
WILLIAM EGGLESTON: NOT COLOR'S DAD
Make the rounds of the Armory show in NYC this weekend and you'll see hundreds of color photographs, or "c-prints." The art world loves color photography--it's becoming almost as ubiquitous as painting and sculpture--and it might surprise you to learn that it's all because of one man, an eccentric Southern photographer named William Eggleston.
At least that's what critic Jim Lewis argues, in a recent profile in the online magazine Slate. Lewis claims that Eggleston's “breakthrough,” all-color show at MOMA in 1976 was an "annunciation of the coming of color," paving the way for ready acceptance of chromatics in “new art photographers” such as Nan Goldin, Mitch Epstein, Richard Prince, and Andreas Gursky. Without a trace of irony (I'm pretty sure), he dubs Eggleston "The Father of Color Photography."
This pronouncement is just irritating, for a couple of reasons. First, it overlooks major developments around the time of Eggleston's show that were also bringing color to the fore, in favor of the tired "great men" view of history. Second, the four successors mentioned are completely unrelated to one another conceptually; the pictures Lewis chooses to illustrate his argument show surface similarities but ultimately do a disservice to the meanings of the artists.
Of course, Lewis immediately hedges by saying that “ready acceptance” means only acceptance of color and not acceptance of the four artists’ work itself. Nevertheless, it's hard not to keep them in mind, because they're the only concrete examples he gives of why the photo world's expansion to color might be important (other than generally explaining that the move was long overdue). By emphasizing the “vernacular” side of Eggleston's work, Lewis seems to be building a connection to, in particular, Epstein (for the sometime banality of his subject matter) and Goldin (for the snapshot casualness of her style). But apart from considering the good or bad taste of color snapshots, he doesn't really tell us how artists are using the full spectrum in the wake of Eggleston.
Art after Art Photography.
Lewis’ phrase "new art photographers" glosses over a not-so-old schism in the world of Museum-collected photography, between “art photography“ and what might roughly be called “artists with cameras,” a distinction outlined in Abigail Solomon-Godeau‘s famous essay “Photography after Art Photography.“ Almost exclusively shot in black and white and practiced by the likes of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Lee Friedlander, art photography was firmly ensconced in the museum in the ‘60s and ‘70s under the stewardship of MOMA curator John Szarkowski; it emphasized darkroom practice and objective standards of quality in photos.
The "conceptual photography" of Prince, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, and others, however, emerged from the world of painting, sculpture, and video. These artists used photos to document a performance, advance a theory, or critique the mass media, and didn't much give a damn about photographic values (including the old prohibition on color). In addition to this generation change in America, developments in European contemporary art gradually came to light in the late ‘70s: Gilbert & George, for example, used vivid colors in their photopastiches at least as early as 1975, and the conceptualist Jan Dibbets had no qualms about color in his images of tilted landscapes and car hoods. And finally, as Lewis mentions, color printing technology was vastly improving during this period.
Thus, while Szarkowski may have taken a big leap vis a vis older art photographers by giving Eggleston a one-person museum exhibit in ‘76, other trends were fast making that radicality a non-issue. The Europeans and young Americans weren’t invited into the tea circle of art photography because William Eggleston opened the door: instead, they found their own critical advocates, and after a few years of publicity and sales, they simply took over the show--and color came along with them.
Everybody's an artist.
Photography now is actually a mishmash of the art and conceptualist camps: the "snapshot aesthetic" of artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans and Richard Billingham rubs shoulders with anal retentive compositions by Gursky and the ultra-stagy Gregory Crewdson (and the latter's former students). All of the above now just call themselves artists, and the term "art photography" is in disrepute as the domain of camera club perfectionists.
Of the practitioners invoked/not invoked by Lewis as Eggleston successors, only Epstein might be called an old school “art photographer” lineally descended from Eggleston (although he claims Gary Winogrand as a mentor). Gursky’s work springs from the Euro-conceptual tradition of his teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher; Goldin’s ‘80s photography was verite involvement in the lives of a group of boho friends in New York’s East Village (seen as performative, post-Sherman); Prince was an American “appropriator” (see rephotographed cowboys below). While all of them may ultimately have emerged at the end of their careers as photographers Szarkowsi would probably love, that’s not how they started out.
Eggleston certainly had some influence on the current generation as a poetic formalist, but Lewis keeps emphasizing the (apparently) casual, snapshot side of his work--“garish” color, “bad” lighting, “banal” subject matter. I put all these terms in quotes because Eggleston isn’t really that casual. When I think of him the images that pop into my head are his tributes to "found color"--painted stripes on walls, product displays in Southern grocery stores, and that outrageous red ceiling (above)--revealing the exacting eye of a color field painter. David Byrne's curated selection of Eggleston photos for the 1986 True Stories book likewise included only this type of photo and none of the Diane Arbus-like images of odd southern characters.
Regardless of the subject matter, Eggleston's "snapshots" of the rural South are very carefully put together. Hilton Kramer couldn't see that in 1976, but he was famously wrong about many artists. Eggleston's "mistakes," such as the overexposed tree Lewis mentions, or non-sequiturs, such as the boy lying incongruously on a garage floor, occur within pictures that precisely balance chromatics, shape, composition, and so forth. Lewis discusses such formal strategies (turning the "perceived vices" of color into virtues, balancing shallowness and depth, creating "odd spirals") but without identifying them explicitly as such. You get the feeling Lewis mainly has Goldin in mind when discussing Eggleston’s casualness, but that’s inapposite because her early work was genuinely rushed, capturing the heat of the moment.
Eggleston had help.
As for the “great man” thesis: Lewis creates the impression that Eggleston traveled to NY with a box of slides under his arm and the most powerful photography curator there had the perceptiveness to immediately give him a show. According to an Art on Paper article, Eggleston befriended photographers Friedlander, Arbus, and Winogrand in the '60s, all of whom were Szarkowsi's "New York School" proteges. Szarkowski may indeed have been "immediately" impressed by Eggleston's work, but having the support of his circle couldn't have hurt. Also, Washington, DC artist William Christenberry plugged Eggleston to curator Walter Hopps, who wanted to do an Eggleston show but dropped it when he found out about Szarkowski's. In any case, Eggleston made his famous trip to NY in 1967 but it took Szarkowski nine years finally to give him a show.
I would argue that Eggleston truly is an art photographer, in the old Szarkowsian sense, and if he seems contemporary at all now it’s because artists that were once threatening have grown more traditional. This is especially true of Prince, who started his career sardonically rephotographing Marlboro ads, but has been taking some pretty tame pictures of his upstate New York environs lately. Calling Eggleston the Father of Color Photography is annoyingly patriarchal, and ignores what Brian Eno calls "scenius"--a kind of collective innovation that includes changes in technology and the efforts of many lesser-known people working in the field. The story of the brilliant outsider coming to the big city and cutting through all the bullshit is very American, but in this case the photo world's tectonic shifts are the more interesting tale. Maybe Eggleston isn’t as dismissable as Martha Rosler once said he was (she saw his promotion by MOMA as a Kodak-inspired plot to sell home color darkroom equipment), but his conservative brand of difficulty makes him an ideal patron saint for backsliders.
Afterthoughts. It may well be that William Eggleston's "breakthrough" enabled photo departments to collect color photos for the first time, but this is really a minor achievement, important only within the rigid, internecine structure of the contemporary art museum, since color photography *was* being collected a few doors down the hall, in the painting department. Thus, what he really did was give photographers who wanted to use color permission to do something, a handful of years early, that artists were already doing. But to be important, we expect artists to rewrite the rules of the game, not just a few intramural regulations.
If I had to pick a "great man" it would probably be Prince, for finally, belatedly extending the logic of Duchamp and Pop art to photography (and being a malicious wit). The reason breaking the color barrier was important was that at last photography could be as permeable to the everyday (commercial, media-defined) world as painting had become under Warhol. More than a color progenitor, it might be interesting to think of Eggleston as a proto-appropriator, photographing banal commercial subject matter in a landscape setting before Prince et al came along and just removed the setting. But that's a stretch--I still think Eggleston is mainly an art photographer, whose principal contribution is injecting the poetry of color field painting into mechanically produced images.
Eva pilots Asuka and Shinji working at home to improve their sync ratios, in the
Japanese TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion (1994-5).
Mario Lopez and Danny Bonaduce playing Dance Dance Revolution on the set
of The Other Half TV series, as Dick Clark looks on (ca. 2001).
Here's a sample of Bruce Sterling's annotation of Laurie Garrett's leaked email from Davos (thanks to gen kanai for this tidbit):
"Watching Bill Clinton address the conference while sitting in the hotel room of the President of Mozambique – we were viewing it on closed circuit TV – I got juicy blow-by-blow analysis of US foreign policy from a remarkably candid head of state. A day spent with Bill Gates turned out to be fascinating and fun. I found the CEO of Heineken hilarious, and George Soros proved quite earnest about confronting AIDS. Vicente Fox – who I had breakfast with – proved sexy and smart like a – well, a fox. David Stern (Chair of the NBA) ran up and gave me a hug." [You'll want to keep these touching human-interest stories in mind if you see these gentle, accomplished people dangling from street lanterns.]
"The world isn't run by a clever cabal. [Cabal yes, clever no.]
"It's run by about 5,000 bickering, sometimes charming, usually arrogant, mostly male people who are accustomed to living in either phenomenal wealth, or great personal power. A few have both. Many of them turn out to be remarkably naive – especially about science and technology. All of them are financially wise, though their ranks have thinned due to unwise tech-stock investing. [The ultra-rich: an endangered species.]
An ad with my drawings of the Shell girls appears on p. 104 of the March 2003 issue of The Wire, a UK-based avant/electronic music mag. (Its website is at www.thewire.co.uk.) I haven't heard the 7 inch yet. Donna Bailey is on the left and Marianne Nowottny is on the right. That particular issue of the magazine has a long cover profile on Faust, a great German group from the '70s, and an editorial by Rob Young excoriating Nick Hornby for some recent writing on music. I've never read Hornby (I did see About a Boy and kind of liked it) but I was irritated by the obtuse conservatism of his New York Times review of Jason Little's graphic novel Shutterbug Follies. From reading Young's editorial, it sounds like Hornby has lost his grip on the zeitgeist (if he ever had it) and success has turned him into another boring old fart. (I don't really care about any of this, I just wrote it so the text would wrap around the graphic.)
More in a continuing series on artist websites. With these three, spatial relations are key:
Charles Goldman is a poet of unobserved and what might be called Zenovian space--as in Zeno's Paradox of the arrow that never reaches its target because it's always covering half the distance. Replicas of all the stairs leading to the artist's apartment, a raised platform recreating in miniature the meandering path of a walk through the city, a single line caroming around within a painting's borders like the traffic cloverleaf from hell are a few examples of his spatiotemporal investigations. In 1000 Feet of Tin Foil, 2000 (below), he hammered that many square feet of standard foil into a perfect sphere measuring ten inches in diameter. I also like the slightly larger pictures and text on this gallery-produced page, even though it's not as elegant as his personal site.
Elise Ferguson draws and paints symmetrical, tiled patterns recalling parquet floors or 50s-ish linoleum, which spill over into three dimensional space in eccentric, unpredictable ways. Sitting flat, like laminates, or cut jigsaw fashion, the patterns are one of many rogue elements in installations merging the Rosalind Kraussian "sculpture in the expanded field" discourse with the irrational or de Chiricoesque. Groupings of cylinders, boxes, pedestals, and cast (carved?) tree stumps, often incongruously including replicas of simulated fruit, mediate among the interior, the exterior, and the psychological, in work that is craftsy, private, smart, and funny in a very dry way. Below is Installation View, 2001:
Alan Wiener's boxy sculptures of Hydrocal (or aquaresin) are fringed with organic-looking tabs, the runoff of plaster oozing through molds. Instead of trimming the tabs, Wiener uses them proactively, as joints holding the pieces together. In the untitled piece from 2002 below, receding rows of toothlike tabs devour the viewer's gaze whole. Wiener's website is good--see also his matter-of-fact photos of cinderblocks from around the world--but I wish it wasn't in Flash so I could save an image or two without having to use a capture utility. [Update: his page is no longer in Flash--the cinderblock photos are gone, though.] His Feature gallery page fortunately allowed this.
This is from the White House press briefing transcript from yesterday. Check it out now before it gets revised. The subject is Bush buying UN votes with trade and immigration concessions, so he can have his war. On the CSPAN videotape, you can clearly see and hear the normally deferential press corps burst into spontaneous laughter at Ari Fleischer's BS: "Think about the implications of what you're saying," he smugly tells a reporter. "You're saying that the leaders of other nations are buyable. And that is not an acceptable proposition." In the middle of the last sentence everyone in the room starts laughing. For a split second it looks like Fleischer thinks they're laughing with him; when he realizes they're not, he ends the briefing and marches out of the room with everyone still guffawing. This should happen more often.
(Thanks to cursor.org)
Q Ari, just to follow up on Mexico. Is it true that the administration is willing to give Mexico some sort of immigration agreements like amnesty or guest worker program, to assure the Mexican vote, as the French press is pointing out today and is quoting, actually, two different diplomats from the State Department?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's exactly as I indicated, that we have, on this issue, a matter of diplomacy and a matter of the merits. We ask each nation on the Security Council to weigh the merits and make a decision about war and peace. And if anybody thinks that there are nations like Mexico, whose vote could be bought on the basis of a trade issue or something else like that, I think you're giving -- doing grave injustice to the independence and the judgment of the leaders of other nations.
Q -- the French press is quoting actually two different diplomats from the United States State Department that -- they're highlighting that the United States is giving some sort of agreements or benefits to Colombia -- and other non-members of the Security Council --
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the story. And you already have the answer, about what this will be decided on. But think about the implications of what you're saying. You're saying that the leaders of other nations are buyable. And that is not an acceptable proposition. (Laughter.)