Martin Parr, Luxury @Janet Borden

JTF (just the facts): A total of 18 color works, most framed in black and matted, and hung in the main gallery space. The inkjet prints come in three sizes (or reverse): 20×24, 20×30, or 40×60. 15 of the images on view are either 20×24 or 20×30, both in editions of 10. There are also 3 prints in the larger size, displayed without frames, in editions of 5. The images were taken between 1995 and 2008. A monograph of this body of work was published in 2009 by Chris Boot (here). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Given the punishing depths of the economic crisis, it’s hardly a surprise that our contemporary artists and photojournalists have recently pointed their cameras at a variety of depressing subjects: foreclosed homes, empty shopping malls, melting icebergs, ruined cities, and people on the brink of emotional breakdown. These pictures attempt to tell the story of real world failures, of the downstream consequences for actions that may have seemed perfectly rational at the time, but turned out to be woefully misguided.

Martin Parr’s Luxury series takes us back to the point just before the bubble burst, when conspicuous consumption was at its height. His images of art fairs, horse races, fashion shows and lavish VIP parties chronicle the outrageous behaviors of the international rich and famous with an anthropological eye for detail. Excess is everywhere: too much lipstick, too many furs, over-the-top fashions, overgroomed toy animals, tricked out baby strollers, and too many cherries in a single drink – the consistent “too-muchness” making the glamour seem ridiculous. There is a black comedy to all these rituals, people trying too hard to belong to the super elite, going through the motions of someone else’s definition of what wealthy people are supposed to be doing. Taken together, they are a clear sign that we had lost our way.
What I like best about these pictures is that each one is slightly off, the facade of perfection being pulled back just slightly. I particularly enjoyed the images of art patrons wearing clothes that echo the artworks they are viewing – they are visually witty, with a deeper current of commentary about how we create our own identities. Everyone in these pictures is putting on a show, acting out a pantomime, and Parr has captured small moments where what seems altogether normal to the participants is exposed as anything but. The satire is pitch perfect because the subjects are entirely serious, even if a cat is perched on a shoulder or a smile is overbright.
While many photojournalists were focused on soldiers, politicians, bankers, and the impoverished, Parr went in exactly the opposite direction, and nonetheless found many of the same symptoms of an unsustainable situation. Don’t let the saturated colors and the snapshot aesthetic fool you. These images tell the sordid tale of the boom and bust just as well as a foreclosure sign.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The 20×24 and 20×30 prints are priced at $6000 each, regardless of size. The larger 40×60 prints are $11000 each. Parr’s work has started to become more available in the secondary markets in recent years; prints have ranged in price between $1000 and $10000.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Feature: Times Online (here)
  • Interview: lens culture (here)
Martin Parr, Luxury
Through April 24th
560 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

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Read more about: Martin Parr, Janet Borden Inc., Chris Boot Ltd.

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