Philip-Lorca diCorcia, East of Eden @David Zwirner

JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the two rooms of the eastern galleries and on the northern wall before the western galleries. All of the works are inkjet prints, made between 2008 and 2015. Physical sizes vary from 39 1/2 x 49 inches (smallest) to 56 x 71 inches (largest) and all of the prints are available in editions of 8. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Fully one third of the images in diCorcia’s ongoing series “East of Eden” bear weighty titles, such as Genesis, Abraham, After the Fall, Cain and Abel, or Epiphany. As the photographs themselves describe ordinary Americans and their domestic surroundings, these references to the Old Testament, Catholic theology, and the John Steinbeck novel (better known from the 1955 movie, directed by Elia Kazan and starring James Dean) are asked to do some heavy allegorical lifting.

I’m not sure that they are up to that particular job. Steinbeck’s novel, with its themes of tyrannical patriarchy and familial dysfunction, and Milton’s poetic send off for the first couple, exiled from paradise after disobeying God’s orders, were written by believers in the emotional leverage of religious symbols.

It’s doubtful that diCorcia is anything but an ironist when employing imagery from the Judeo/Christian tradition. The Zwirner press release claims that his series is secular and meant to illuminate “the political and economic climate of the United States towards the end of the Bush era.”

Evidence for such a critique—whatever it may mean—is hard to discern in a landscape of an apple tree in bloom (Upstate) or an anomic scene of a woman on a bed, seated with her back to us as she looks down at the Hudson River from a downtown luxury Manhattan apartment (Iolanda). Surely diCorcia can’t be naïve enough to think that the U.S. people first experienced sin only with the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its role in the 2008 Great Recession. Our historical crimes as a nation predate by several centuries George W, despite his epic contributions to the present cock-up.

Elsewhere, as if making sure that we know he isn’t taking himself too seriously, he undercuts the Biblical portent with titles such as The Hamptons: the interior of a palatial white room where two white salukis are intently watching porn on a flat screen TV. His Mount Ararat happens to be in Pennsylvania where, instead of Noah’s ark, he depicts a suburban ranch house trimmed in remnants of snow.

In a welcome development, diCorcia has moved his camera outdoors. More than half the images here were taken either in a traditional landscape setting (with trees, water, rocks, and blue horizons) or on the streets of suburbia. When photographing four lanes of an Interstate cutting across level grass lands (San Joaquin Valley, California), he exercises the same precise cinematic control over his color as he does when rigging lights to shoot a diner, a studio apartment, a Times Square street, or pole dancers at a strip club.

The most satisfying pictures here are the simplest: a pink neon movie marquee that a blurry city bus passes in front of (The Palace); a ranch house with garage, flower bed, and a modest American flag (Stockton, California); a man on a horse, small against the receding hills behind him but tall in the saddle (Sylmar, California). Edward Hopper never tired of painting the loneliness of American life, whether urban or rural, and diCorcia shows no sign that he has exhausted the theme either. One of many photographers who have gone to school on Hopper’s muscular color and light, and his strategies of implied narrative, he has proven for a couple of decades now that his images are strongest when the viewer has to guess what is staged and what isn’t. When his interventions are most apparent, as in an “innocent” scene of a boy jumping on a bed (Genesis) or a young man’s agog reaction as a dart whizzes by his head (Abraham), the layer of prophetic meaning only adds more ham to an already overstuffed Jeff Wall sandwich.

That said, there is no fat in diCorcia’s prints. Better than almost any photographer from the era of Big Color I can think of, he has a sure instinct for what size to make them: large enough for leafy details to unfurl and shadows to thicken. But almost never so big that he surrounds his figures in wasted space, leaving them stranded in or more detached from a scene in which their plight is supposed to be the main attraction. Even if this series never lives up to its name, he should still have plenty of good pictures here that capture the anxious state of the U.S. empire, no matter who is president.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $30000 to $60000 depending on the place in the edition. Two images (Sylmar, California and The Hamptons) are sold out. DiCorcia’s work is widely available at auction, with recent secondary market prices ranging between $5000 and $72000, with a sweet spot between $10000 and $25000.

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One comment

  1. Tam Crantano /

    Been waiting a while for this review, a solid body of work for sure.

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