Joel Meyerowitz, The Effect of France: New Still Lifes, 2012-2013 @Howard Greenberg

JTF (just the facts): A total of 16 color photographs, variously framed/unframed, and hung against light beige walls in the second gallery space to the left of the entry. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made between 2011 and 2013. Physical sizes range from 20×24 to 60×78 (or reverse), and the prints are variously available in editions of 4, 5, 10, and 20. While it is difficult to see from the images below, the edge-to-edge grids of photographs are actually single prints. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Joel Meyerowitz has spent the vast majority of his long and celebrated photographic career outside, gathering many of his best pictures from the streets of New York city and from the beaches and front porches of Cape Cod. So it comes as some surprise to find Meyerowitz’s newest works buried deep in the studio, where constructed set-ups provide the stage for carefully arranged portraits of timeworn objects. In many ways, it feels like a return to classicism, or a consciously meditative response to the bustle of the digital age.

Taking a cue from the rounded surface of the tin funnel Edward Weston used for his pepper still lifes, Meyerowitz has clearly spent some time experimenting with different backdrops and settings for his found specimens. Items from Cezanne’s studio (a bowler hat, a decanter, two glazed earthenware jugs, and a selection of glass bottles) are set in a symphony of mottled neutral grey, a pock marked wall and a dusty tabletop providing tactile surfaces for the objects to play against.

Images from his Teatrino series are much darker and more enclosed. Rumpled black sack cloth hangs in enveloping folds, with tones of rich brown giving his selections a warm glow. Antique tin cans with triangular tips, crackled dry leaves, and shiny pewter vessels revel in the rusty patina of age, with every dent and deformity a dignified mark of the passage of time.

A final pair of works turn the still lifes into gridded typologies, pushing each item into a tight triangular space reminiscent of Irving Penn’s corner portraits. The repeating chevron geometries of the stage provide a controlled space for spatial eccentricity, where rounded curves, waterlogged rectangles, conical peaks, and three-legged ironwork recapture our curiosity. Here the effects of age and neglect are a taxonomy of artful failings, where isolation places our attention on more formal qualities.

The danger with celebrating the everyday is that visual romance can turn into tired banality very quickly; only a few photographers across the entire history of the medium have been able to consistently transform the commonplace into the iconic. What comes through most in these Meyerowitz still lifes is his sense of genuine reverence – these aren’t just overlooked things, they are objects infused with hidden magnificence. When he gets it just right, that glimmer of vitality is revealed once again.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The photographs of single objects or smaller groups of items are priced between $10000 and $26000, generally based on size. The larger grids are $35000 (9 items) and $90000 (15 items). 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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Read more about: Joel Meyerowitz, Howard Greenberg Gallery

One comment

  1. Pete /

    I was at a Meyerowitz talk several years ago in Derby, England (I think it was on his 70th birthday) and he said something about having a fundamental change every now and then – this looks like a big one. Confident, freshs – I quite like them, I could happily live with one on my living room wall.

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