Julie Blackmon: Free Range @Robert Mann

JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the two room gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made between 2009 and 2014. Physical sizes range from roughly 36×36 to 59×82; no edition information was provided on the checklist. A monograph of the artist’s work (Julie Blackmon: Homegrown) was recently published by Radius Books (here) and is available from the gallery for $55. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Over the years, Julie Blackmon’s visual vocabulary has evolved into a carefully controlled pictorial formula. With admirable consistency, she has choreographed staged, single frame vignettes that marry domestic chaos with heightened drama, each image telling a stylized, often wryly funny (and remarkably relatable) story of families and children. That this series of pictures hasn’t yet become tired is a testament to her ability to reliably hit the target, to apply subtle ironic wit to moments that we’ve all experienced. Even at their most bright and surreal, her photographs feel knowingly familiar, like refracted memories of childhood.

Most of the photographs in this show were made in the past two years, and Blackmon seems to be further embracing compositional complexity and allusion in these new pictures; each scene can be meticulously unpacked into a cluster of details, symbols, and interconnections. New Chair creates an event out of a FedEx delivery, a fresh red design statement chair coming down the ramp to replace an old upholstered one (now waiting in the driveway and marked $20 OBO with a hand written sign); a gaggle of neighborhood kids has gathered to watch the exciting proceedings, a melted popsicle puddle on the pavement and one boy helpfully wrapping his head in bubble wrap. Thin Mints turns the annual ritual of Girl Scout cookie delivery into a riff on The Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover, with girls in sashes striding across the crosswalk, pushing doll strollers and tugging a wagonload of cookie boxes, a chocolate-mouthed toddler as a caboose, screaming but unnoticed.

Other new works touch on family classics like the garage sale (selling treasures like a Kenny Rogers album, old Christmas lights, kittens, and rocks, for posted prices ranging from 5 cents to free), the pet hamster (out of the cage and running loose in a makeshift house made of books and doll furniture on the screen porch), and goth Halloween dress up in all black (with too much eye mascara and an Abe Lincoln beard). Look more closely at any one of these images and there are more tiny items and elements to be discovered, each contributing to the slightly out of control mood inherent to creative childhood play.

While Blackmon’s craftsmanship is getting tighter and her domestic raw material is in a certain way endless, I’m ready for her to move on from the one independent scene at a time progression to something new and different, perhaps turning the knob towards even darker themes, playing with artistic allusions more overtly, or building up a narrative arc through a series of pictures of the same family. She’s mastered her brand of cleverly refined childhood commentary and now it’s time to push herself to take those ideas someplace even riskier.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $5500 and $20000, generally based on size and place in the edition. Blackmon’s work has begun to trickle into the secondary markets in the past few years, with prices ranging between roughly $2000 and $9000 for the few lots that have changed hands.

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Read more about: Julie Blackmon, Robert Mann Gallery, Radius Books

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JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space downstairs and the ... Read on.

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