Lee Friedlander, New Mexico

JTF (just the facts): Lee Friedlander, New Mexico, 2008, published by Radius Books. 74 pages. Includes 51 black and white images, with a foreword by Andrew Smith and an essay by Emily Ballew Neff. Published in conjunction with an exhibit at the Andrew Smith Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico (site here).

Comments/Context: This exhibition catalogue collects together images that Friedlander took in New Mexico over the past two decades and were shown at the Andrew Smith Gallery this past fall. These images have been drawn from several different projects, and many of the pictures were previously published in Sticks and Stones, The Desert Seen or elsewhere, and as such, this group has a little bit of an “old wine in a new bottle” feel to it.
Friedlander’s recent work, regardless of its particular subject matter (harsh desert scrub brush, fences/yard landscapes, sidewalks/roadways/shadows etc.), has settled into a common framework: square format images, full of high density patterning and visual contrasts. Going back to his earlier work of the 1960s and 1970s, Friedlander has always been interested in how the camera “sees”, where the three dimensional world is flattened into a two dimensional plane of line and form. These more current works have taken this concept several evolutionary steps further, as the images get more crowded, brimming with contradictory and chaotic motifs and constructions.
Friedlander’s newest project uses the window (and oftentimes the side mirror) of a non-descript rental car as an additional framing mechanism for his world view. Given the setting of the car, one might think of these pictures as fly-by snapshots, but indeed, they have the same careful composition of all Friedlander’s work, and the frames and posts of the car just give him an additional set of dominant lines to unbalance and divide the picture plane.
An interesting thing to consider is whether the whole construct of this exhibit, namely the New Mexico setting, matters at all. Friedlander’s work isn’t “about” his environment per se; it’s about the compositional shapes and forms that are the outgrowth of the picture making process. So whether the pictures are “of” New Mexico (or any other place for that matter) seems irrelevant. It is his vision of these places that we came to see.
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Collector’s POV: Oddly enough, we actually already own an image from this exhibit (here), which came from the Sticks and Stones series, and which we bought from Fraenkel Gallery (site here) a few years ago. Since that time, and likely as a result of the massive Friedlander touring retrospective, retail prices for Friedlander’s new work have continued to rise. We don’t have a price list from this show, but earlier last year, Friedlander’s new work was selling in the $7000 range at retail. One annoying thing about this book is that there is no listing of the images by title, date etc., so there is no way to reference the images, except by their page number. Overall, however, we continue to be amazed by Freidlander’s work, and even though this may not be his most ground breaking collection of images, we expect these pictures will likely stand the test of time quite well.

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