JTF (just the facts): A total of 63 color photographs arranged into three typologies/grids, each image individually framed in white and matted, the sets hung in the small single room Project Gallery in the back. All of the prints are archival pigment prints. The 15 images of storage units were made between 2001 and 2010 and are roughly 9×11 each; the typology is available in an edition of 11. The 24 images of signs were made between 2003 and 2007 and are 7×7 each; the typology is available in an edition of 9. And the 24 images of drive-ins were made between 1990 and 2002 and are 7×7 each; the typology is also available in an edition of 9. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: As a foil to the larger Baltz, Becher, Ruscha exhibit on view in the next room (here), this small show of the contemporary work of Jeff Brouws provides concrete evidence of the continued use and popularity of the typology as a photographic form. Like Evans and Christenberry before him, Brouws has an eye for vernacular America, tracking down a broad catalog of abandoned drive-in theaters, broken roadside advertising, and one-story storage units with rolling steel doors.
This show in particular got me thinking about the rigidity of this specific approach to image making. Just like in poetry, where if you pour the contents of a normal poem into the structure of a sonnet or a haiku the results may be middling or altogether broken, the same can be said for the photographic typology: taking a bunch of pictures of a similar subject and hanging them in a grid doesn’t automatically mean they will be an effective typology. This particular form requires exacting rigor, or the theme and variation that is meant to be highlighted gets muddled by too many differences in detail. The Bechers were obviously the masters at reducing the number of visual variables: same camera angles, same framing, same lighting/sky, etc., leaving the simplicity of the architectural forms to come to the forefront. Brouws’ typologies are less systematic and ruthless, and color is introduced as another factor to be considered. The overall effect is much looser and warmer, less deadpan conceptual and more celebratory of the idiosyncrasies of American life.
There is of course a limit to the ubiquity of the typology at some point; not every subject deserves such exacting attention. And this show reminded me that the typology is in many ways an originality reducing form; the more it is executed with systematic serial rigor, the less the individual images have a signature style that is obviously attributable to a specific maker. I think this brings us back to a strong dose of conceptualism as the foundation on which this form is built; those who casually hang their pictures in a grid without thinking through what this approach really implies are truly missing the point. Brouws has clearly thought this through and has opted for a more personal approach to the typology, a little less stringent and structured than many, but perhaps a little more comfortable and approachable.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The storage unit typology is priced at $10750, while the sign typology is $11750 and the drive-in typology is $22000. Brouws’ work is not readily available in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.
Of the three typologies on view, my favorite was the selection of broken signs (Signs Without Signification); it’s on the right in the bottom installation shot. I liked the way the empty outlines were pared down into the simple geometries of squares, rectangles and circles, almost like line drawings against the backdrop of the sky.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Through May 27th
535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011