JTF (just the facts): A total of 16 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are c-prints, made between 2009 and 2013. Physical dimensions range from roughly 35×25 (or reverse) to 46×56 (or reverse), and all of the prints are available in editions of 5+2AP. A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Mack Books (here), and is available from the gallery for $60. A concurrent exhibition of this work is currently on view at Capitain Petzel in Berlin (here). (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: I absolutely remember moments in my own short-lived high school sports career where some full throated fan in the stands would shout out “sacrifice your body” as a kind of enthusiastic admonishment to get in there and mix it up. But I also distinctly recall the same phrase being passed around among teammates on the bench, just before being put into the game, and it had a different kind of salty irony; it was an underhanded slacker encouragement which meant something close to the exact opposite, which was acknowledged with a knowing nod (the gestural equivalent of “Yeah, right”). As a title for Roe Ethridge’s terrific new body of work (and accompanying book), it has a satisfying perfection, reminding us that what we see can function both at face value and in a much more subversive manner.
In the past, I have harbored more than a little skepticism towards Ethridge’s brand of in-between vernacular commercialism, often finding it too random to follow. But even though this show draws from various seemingly unrelated photographic projects, commissions, and interests from the past few years, it has been smartly woven together, displaying much more consistency than previous efforts – there’s hardly a missed note anywhere in this complicated collection of images.
Ethridge’s image of a blue Surface surfboard covered in a handful of crackled leaves is, at least to my eye, a kind of conceptual linchpin for this exhibit. It’s a straightforward logo reminder that the surface is important, which is then interrupted by something else (the leaves) placed on the surface. Many of the works on view function in this same “it is and it isn’t” method, providing us rich textures that can be read simply or with a more mysterious or perverse edge. There is a dense sculptural squiggle of white, uncooked ramen noodles, a slippery dead flounder on a similarly pocked marble counter, a dead-on top-down view of a red checkerboard Bonne Maman jelly jar, and the stark contrast of luscious mud and spiky green grass on a rental car tire (apparently recently pulled out a nearby canal); each one is surface and something more.
This undercurrent of being just a little bit off is even more pronounced in a Chanel No. 5 product shot with a live yellow jacket and a roughly superimposed model with a football (you can see the cut out edges) placed over football wallpaper; at first glance, they look plausible, but up close, it’s another story. Ominous almost film noir phones pop up twice, with Giselle making a breathy call (in a polka dot jacket) and a bright yellow phone left off the hook. And a neon yellow football nestled in a field of flowers, a plastic bag floating in murky water, and a model in dusty purple pulling back a floral curtain all have a sense of unease to them, a feeling of being out of place, off center and unsettled, perhaps part of a larger narrative, perhaps not.
Repetitions bring many of these visual ideas back on themselves, with the images of the flounder and the football model seen twice in slightly different sizes, and Chanel logos, the muddy canal, footballs, and phones surfacing more than once in separate photographs. The effect is a kind of harmonic refrain across the room, where motifs build on themselves and mutate.
Ethridge has found a pleasingly dissonant, disconnected but connected groove with this group of pictures, where his slick obviousness is undercut just enough to find a compelling edge. His many imitators will have a hard time matching the unlikely cohesiveness of this cleverly intertwined blend.
Collector’s POV: The works on view are priced between $14000 and $24000, based on size, with most prints either $18000 or $20000. Ethridge’s work has not yet become consistently available in the secondary markets; prices for the few lots that have sold at auction in recent years have ranged between $9000 and $20000.