Joel Meyerowitz, Conversations @Howard Greenberg

JTF (just the facts): A total of 26 color photographs, generally framed in white and unmatted, and hung against light grey walls in the main gallery space. (Installation shots below.)

The following works are included in the show:

  • 1 archival pigment print, 1963/later, sized roughly 24×16, in an edition of 25
  • 10 archival pigment prints, 1967/later, 1968/later, 1977/later, 2004/later, 2010/later, 2011/later, 2015/later, sized roughly 16×24, 19×24, 24×16, 24×18 inches, in editions of 20
  • 1 archival pigment print, 1968/later, sized roughly 16×24 inches, from an umbrella edition
  • 7 archival pigment prints, 1975/later, 1976/later, 1977/later, 1983/later, 1984/later, sized roughly 28×40, 30×38 inches, in editions of 10
  • 1 archival pigment print, 1983/later, sized roughly 30×38 inches, in an edition of 5
  • 6 dye sublimation prints, 1967/1994, 1968/1994, 1971/1994, 1975/1994, sized roughly 9×12

Comments/Context: Now in his mid 80s, Joel Meyerowitz is seven decades into his artistic career, so it’s safe to say he’s been around the photographic block more than a few times. And while his last gallery show of new work (featuring still life images made in the studios of Cézanne and Morandi) was back in 2017 (reviewed here), it’s not as though Meyerowitz has slowed down or retired in some manner. Quite the contrary, he’s been busy with a steady stream of new exhibitions (he’s currently got a room in the “Artist and Society” show at the Tate Modern, as an example) and photobooks (“A Question of Color” was published just this last January); he’s even waded into the online world of NFTs, with a project called “Sequels”, where he’s been releasing an unpublished image from his archive as an NFT every day for more than a year now.

All this digging through a lifetime of work and rethinking it in new formats and contexts must inevitably be providing Meyerowitz with repeated opportunities for artistic pattern matching, where visual ideas that appear in one set of images or in one time period of his image making are resurfacing again in alternate or unexpected ways, perhaps decades later. Add a playful splash of restless visual curiosity and you’ve got a recipe for finding potential connections and associations between images all over the place.

This show brings together ten pairings of color photographs, many featuring one or more of Meyerowitz’ best known images, so in a certain sense, this is a remixed version of some of the photographer’s greatest hits. But in each pairing, it’s as though a set of fresh eyes has been applied to the familiar, the deliberate re-looking process teasing out new meanings and relationships (via the sequencing) that we may have previously missed or overlooked.

Several of the visual “conversations” are decently literal, in that they pair two images of overtly similar subject matter. The show begins with two images from the 1960s, where groups of women in colorful dresses and white shoes gather in clusters. Across the room, we discover two images of summer laundry hung outside, the sheets and towels pulled into fluttering geometries by the wind. And nearby, two images of the cluttered studios of Cézanne and Morandi open up layered visual dialogues between tabletop arrangements of objects.

Echoes of color inform several other connections. Perhaps the most striking example of this kind of visual parallel comes in two twilight images, one in Provincetown, the other in Fort Lauderdale, where rich royal blue fills the skies; a more subtle refrain of angles can also be found in the roof lines and fences, with the famous red interior of the car providing a point of departure. Another pairing from the late sixties offers two scenes in Florida, both anchored by tanned legs; a close look reveals other echoes of angled arms, and of the greens of the chaise cushions and parked cars. And yet another pairing of summertime Provincetown scenes from the 1970s turns on the mottled glow of the two skies, each image interrupted by a bright line (a lightning bolt in one and a pool ladder in the other).

The other four conversations on view are more subtle, and find Meyerowitz reaching for more inspired points of visual harmony, especially when leveraging well known images. On the surface, a pairing of images from New York City and Yosemite National Park might not seem obvious, but Meyerowitz sees a connection between the billowing smoke and silhouetted figures in his famous image of a couple in camel colored coats on the streets of the city and the dappled light and long shadows cast between the towering tree trunks of the park, each image a study of how the light activates a scene. In another duo, he starts with his image of a house in Provincetown decorated with a massive American flag and links it to another view a similarly blocked view of another Cape Cod house, this time by a hedge of blooming pink roses; what’s unexpected is how the two houses are obscured and framed, with the triangle points of the rooflines in the center poking up above the frontal interruption in both cases. Even more understated are the visual conversations that pair the undulations of a grassy hillside and those of waves coming ashore, or the rectangular form of a doorway and a similar space in the clouds above the sea.

All of the prints in these visual conversations have been made recently, and are much larger than Meyerowitz would or could have made back when the images were first made, adding a degree of scale and vibrancy with makes many of the images pop. For those who are interested in something closer to the original presentation, a group of six dye sublimation prints made for a 1994 Art Institute of Chicago exhibit have been included in a small grid at the back of the gallery, including the famous image in Paris of an accident on the street.

In the end, this is a functional survey of what makes Meyerowitz enduringly important, with a twist of thoughtful freshness to keep the sampler from feeling a bit too predictable. There is something energizing about pairing the classics with lesser known images, and perhaps the inspiration of the process will lead Meyerowitz to follow that lead further. I’d certainly be curious to see even more risk taking in the pairings, pushing us to unpack the way Meyerowitz sees with more clarity.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $12000, $13200, $20500, and $22000, based on size. Meyerowitz’ work is routinely available in the secondary markets, particularly prints of his 1970s images made in large editions (75 or even 100). Prices have typically ranged from $1000 to $24000.

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