Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Martin Parr: USA Color @Borden

JTF (just the facts): A total of 21 large scale color works, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the divided main gallery space. The exhibit also includes a small hand held album of color prints, displayed in a glass case. The single images are either chromogenic prints or pigment prints, made between 1993 and 2012. Sizes range from 20x24 to 40x60, and the prints come in editions of 5, 10, or 25. The album consists of 100 4x6 chromogenic prints, the entire set originally available in an edition of 5. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: When you're as prolific a photographer as Martin Parr, at some point it becomes possible to put together a show or a book with nearly any theme - just pick a subject, drill a core sample through the archive, and out pop dozens of images that share a common connection. It's a testament to Parr's consistent originality across the decades that these subsets of work all bear his unmistakable blend of visual wit and saturated color. This particular show gathers together pictures made in America, but could easily have been called flags, food, and tourists given its clusters of imagery. It's a high voltage retrospective of American eccentricity, endearingly brash and conspicuously ridiculous.
While it's always easy to have a few laughs and smiles at a Martin Parr show, I think that his snapshot humor has often led us to discount his compositional craft and his exceptional timing. Parr's split second juxtapositions are culled from the river of ordinariness flowing by, his eye able to pick out the inherent oddness of the everyday and get it framed just right to highlight that moment of unexpected vitality. The tourist shots in this show all turn on the relationship of clothing to the surrounding environment: a dime store feathered headdress on a Grand Canyon watcher, a cowboy hat flanked by the Las Vegas sphinx, a black and white $100 dollar patterned hat near the spots of a giraffe at the Atlanta zoo. His pictures capture the unintended irony of simple things: the gaudy flowered shirts worn by middle aged men to a colorful Hawaiian luau, the jungle florals on a pair of beach swimsuits, the complex angle of a girl in a James Dean jacket that somehow matches the replica Eiffel Tower in the distance. In Parr's world, cultural signifiers go awry left and right.
Parr's images of American food opt for the subtly outrageous. Meat on a stick is a common theme, from an oversized corndog slathered in mustard and ketchup to a manly hunk of grilled lamb still on the bone; an overstuffed Las Vegas breakfast plate and a rainbow colored layer cake tell us more about the extremes found in the American diet. Parr's flags are equally bold and puzzling, from a speedo style bathing suit and golf headcovers in the stars and stripes, to a small flag draped amid sausages for sale. His fabulous album of flags taken in New York just after 9/11 (when American flags flew nearly everywhere in abundant variety) deserves to be a book of its own - it's poignant, patriotic, and wonderfully over the top all at the same time.
Parr's maverick vision sets him apart from most of his contemporaries, and even at his most caustic, I find it hard not to revel in the joy in his photographs. Even as we drown in an endless sea of digital snapshots, a Martin Parr image is still immediately recognizable at twenty paces. His photographs embrace the quirks of humanity with warmth and affection, reliably jolting us with bright color and understated comedy.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The 20x24 and 20x30 prints are priced at $5000 or $6000 each. The larger 40x60 prints are $12000 each. The album is available for $5000. Parr's prints are intermittently available in the secondary markets, with recent prices ranging between $1000 and $12000.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Magnum Photos page (here)
  • Features/Reviews: New Yorker PhotoBooth (here)
Martin Parr: USA Color
Through June 28th
560 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

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