Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gregory Crewdson: Sanctuary @Gagosian

JTF (just the facts): A total of 22 black and white works, framed in silver and matted, and hung in a pair of rooms on the 6th floor of the gallery. All of the works are pigment inkjet prints, each sized 29x35, printed in editions of 6+2AP, and made in 2009. 20 of the images are hung in the main room, with an additional 2 images on display in a smaller side room. The works in the show have been drawn from a series of 41 photographs. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Elaborate, cinematic staging has been the hallmark of Gregory Crewdson's photography for more than a decade. In recent years, his sets have become increasingly extravagant, with massive crews of professionals on hand to create his dramatic (and often surreal) film-still scenes of suburban life. I have often wondered where the logical limit to these overblown constructions would lie - what is your next step when your last image took an army of people weeks to put together?
Crewdson's newest work seems to begin again from the rubble of his previous ideas, as if his entire artistic enterprise finally collapsed under its own ponderous weight and Crewdson was left looking for a new path forward. It has all the trappings of a mid-life crisis, including big frame-breaking changes: he's gone back to black and white, traveled to Europe, embraced digital, slimmed down his retinue, and returned to a closer connection with photographic truth. The result is a set of quiet, elegant images that are rooted in the traditions of the medium, but continue to explore some of the artist's interests in the nature of visual fiction.
All of the pictures in this show were taken in the abandoned back lots of the famous Cinecittà studios in Rome, where streets filled with old stage sets rot and fade into obscurity. Stylistically, apart from a little bit of dramatic mist and some soft lighting (dawn and dusk), the images seem almost classically documentary. The architecture of the dilapidated stage sets is rendered in a array of crisp, controlled greys, empty and understated rather than operatic. His subjects are the layers of film-making fakery, gone to seed: scaffolding holding up paper thin facades, weeds pushing through molded cobblestones, muddy puddles dotting behind-the-scenes dirt paths, faux colonnades falling down. Stairs lead to nowhere, a broken boat lies in the middle of an intersection, sky pokes through splintered walls and a shattered plaster urn lies in pieces on the ground. In nearly every image, Crewdson captures the contrast of the frontal stage and the background machinations, both sides now coming apart, the illusion uncovered. Several pictures add an additional element of formal compositional framing, using an arch, alleyway, or door as a portal through which to view the truth of the deserted ruins.
What I found most striking about these pictures was their overwhelming sense of silence. There are no actors, artfully posed in some enigmatic narrative; the stage sets themselves are the actors, and the movie was finished a very long time ago. At first glance, the images can seem a bit underwhelming (especially from afar given their middle tonality), but after further looking, they slowly reveal a more complex mixing of the ideas of reality and artifice. For me, this new work seems most like a bridge for Crewdson: leaving behind most of what came before and taking along a thin thread of connection to explore further going forward.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced at $30000 each. Crewdson's prints are regularly available in the secondary markets (both in the photography and contemporary art auctions), with prices ranging from roughly $4000 to nearly $100000.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Yale faculty page (here)
  • Reviews: Daylight (here), Vanity Fair (here), NY Times, 2005 (here)
  • Feature: Artinfo (here)
Through October 30th

98o Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10075


Frank Nachtman said...

After so many original examples of using film sets/stills by artists like Baldessari, Cindy Sherman, Larry Sultan, and John Divola, the idea seems well worn at this point. Tired, even. This work is too easy for an artist of Crewdson's caliber.

Anonymous said...

30,000 dollars for an ink jet print? At least a silver print is made by hand, one at a time. With these prints, once the digital image is perfected, it is about pressing the print button. What a sham!!!

Anonymous said...

As someone who's been printing in the darkroom for the last 30 years, and digitally for the last 15... there's very little difference in the difficulty between the two. To get an average print in either the darkroom or a printer, is just a matter of pushing a button. To get a fine print from either method takes much more expertise, craft and art.