Wednesday, March 27, 2013

At War with the Obvious: Photographs by William Eggleston @Met

JTF (just the facts): A total of 36 color photographs, framed in brown wood and matted, and hung in a series of three small rooms on the second floor of the museum. All of the works are dye transfer prints, taken between 1969 and 1984; most are vintage prints. Physical sizes range from 12x17 to 15x22 or reverse; no edition information was available. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: This exhibit is an example of the entirely natural desire of a museum to show off its new acquisitions. Last year, the Met acquired a high quality selection of early Egglestons (a complete set from his first portfolio, a group of 15 images from William Eggleston's Guide, and a handful of other iconic pictures) and this show gets them up on the walls with little delay. There isn't really any scholarly framework or new thinking here, just an impressive sample of Eggleston's early dye transfers.

While it's hard to beat the tricycle, the red ceiling, the peaches sign, or the green shower stall, I was most interested to see Eggleston's first portfolio from 1974. While the used tires sign, the plastic animals, and the rusted truck in the afternoon sun were familiar to me, the others from the group were more obscure and therefore more intriguing as potential evidence of things to come in his future artistic life. Angles and geometries dominate a claustrophobic brick wall parking space and are also found in the distorted sideways perspective of an office curtain seen through the front window. Decay is never far from view, whether it be the red bars of a swingset poking out of overgrown greenery or a rusted metal target suspended from scraggly treetops. And the quirks of vernacular Southern America are also ever present: a painted dog statue on a stepped pedestal, decorative lights on the roofline of a snack shack, or the plastic flowers that adorn a Faith sign. In a many ways, these first images provide a surprisingly useful framework for what would come later.

I would certainly be remiss if I failed to touch on the rich, saturated color in these dye transfers. Even in the most mundane compositions, Eggleston's masterful command of everyday color is repeatedly demonstrated, coming through again and again with tactile lushness. While most collectors and photography enthusiasts will be familiar with much of what is on view here, that in no way diminishes the enjoyment that comes from a few lazy minutes reveling in the wonders of this color. The orange airplane, the yellow curb, the green dress, the red room, the golden piano, we've seen them before, but they never get old.
Collector's POV: Since this is a museum show, there are obviously no posted prices for the works on display. Eggleston's work is routinely available in the secondary markets, with lesser known images and iconic works coming up for sale with surprising regularity. Recent prices for single images have roughly ranged from a reasonable $5000 to the blockbuster $578500, a record achieved last year by one of the new (and somewhat controversial) extra large digital prints. Eggleston is represented by Cheim & Read in New York (here).
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Eggleston Trust site (here)
  • Features/Reviews: Wall Street Journal (here)
Through July 28th
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

No comments: