JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 color photographs, framed in white with no mats, and hung in the single room gallery space (with a small dividing wall). All of the works are archival pigment prints. The images on view come in three physical sizes with corresponding edition sizes: 22×29 in editions of 25, 32×42 in editions of 10, and 40×53 in editions of 5. There are 2 of the smallest size, 6 of the middle size, and 5 of the largest size in the show. All of the works were made between 2008 and 2010. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Since our home has a couple of young kids running wild inside, Julie Blackmon’s stylized images of the loosely controlled chaos of childhood seem all too familiar. With a touch of humor and an eye for situations that border on the realistically absurd, her pictures are digitally staged vignettes that at once seem both wildly artificial and surprisingly and ironically plausible.
My favorite picture in the show is High Dive, where a gaggle of mismatched and unmonitored children fire straggly dolls off the second floor deck of a suburban house toward a blue plastic wading pool, while the parents sit outside on the lawn and drink wine in the twilight, generally oblivious to the action going on nearby. An appropriate assortment of abandoned clothing and shoes is strewn across the landscape. It captures both the imagination of summertime childhood play as well as the stress release of communal parenting. I can entirely imagine the scene devolving into tears (likely from a now remorseful or angry doll owner), or perhaps a back-handed shout of “No Injuries!” from one or another of the otherwise happily distracted parents.
Blackmon’s pictures both pare down and exaggerate typical family-life scenes, making them almost perfect caricatures of the reality they portray. A girl practices her violin while her brother plugs his ears, a boy climbs the built-in shelving of the library, and kids scatter in the street as a parent loads the trunk of a car. Carefully placed props (a scooter, a half-eaten doughnut, a pile of confetti, a bunch of tinker toys, a Godzilla action figure) make the stories more enigmatically complex, referring to other related but unmentioned narratives that have already played out at some time in the recent past. Or maybe they’re just the discarded remnants of everyday, messy life with kids.
While the overt staginess of these pictures can be a bit distracting, their mixing of obvious unreality with telling glimpses of underlying truth is what makes these pictures work. We’ve certainly experienced variations on this kind of surreal, random weirdness; perhaps lacking the candy-colors, shiny floors, and perfect lighting, but close enough to have resonance and create knowing chuckles. Blackmon references the Dutch Renaissance painter Jan Steen in her artist statement, and the images do have a constructed, painterly feel, drawn from memory and recreated using the powerful tools of digital photography.
Overall, I came away more impressed with these pictures than I expected to be. In the best of the works, Blackmon’s imaginary craziness is a subtle mirror of our own lives, simultaneously mocking and sympathetic. The terrified baby launched into the air by his father is both oddly ridiculous and eerily reminiscent of things we have all done.
Collector’s POV: The works in the show are priced by size and place in the edition. The 22×29 images are priced at $2800 or $3600; the 32×42 images are priced at $3800, $4200 or $5000, and the 40×53 images are $6900 or $8500. Blackmon’s work has only recently started to trickle into the secondary markets, so no robust pricing history is really available. As such, gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point. Blackmon is also represented by Catherine Edelman in Chicago (here), Robert Klein in Boston (here), Fahey/Klein in Los Angeles (here), Photo-Eye in Santa Fe (here), and Gail Gibson in Seattle (here).