William Christenberry, House and Car and @Pace/MacGill

JTF (just the facts): A total of 20 artworks, including black and white and color photographs, sculpture, encaustic paintings, ink drawings, and found objects, variously framed and matted, and hung in the two room gallery space against light green and grey walls. 14 of the works on display are photographs of various sizes and formats. 9 of the photographs are color Brownie prints (a mix of Ektacolor, Evercolor, and Fujicolor), all approximately 4×5, in editions of 25, framed in white and matted. Negative dates for these images range from 1964 to 1999. 3 of the photographs are black and white Brownie Holiday prints (framed in black and matted), all vintage from 1962, again approximately 4×5. There is one larger color print (framed in white with no mat), 40×50, a digital pigment print mounted to Plexiglas, from 1981, in an edition of 9. Finally, there is one array of 20 4×5 digital pigment prints (each framed in white and matted), as a group in an edition of 9, from 1978-2005. Wall texts by Christenberry and Susanne Lange accompany the works. (There is no photography allowed in the gallery, so the installation shots at right are via the Pace/MacGill website.)

Comments/Context: In a recent review of Paolo Ventura’s Winter Stories, we considered the idea of photography being the end point in a long line of preliminary steps in the artistic process, with drawing, painting, and sculpture as intermediate stages, eventually culminating in the photograph which documented the final product. In this show of William Christenberry’s varied art, we see photography used in an entirely different and opposite manner, as a starting point and foundation for deeper, ongoing excursions into sculpture, painting, and drawing.

The customary show of “new work” seems an entirely inappropriate concept when applied to Christenberry’s art. While there are a few brand new pieces on display here, they inextricably tie back to images made decades ago, riffing on motifs, memories and recreations, evolving them in new directions. On the surface, it looks like the same work we’ve seen for years; a little deeper, it’s clear that we’ve gone down the rabbit hole of the vernacular South even further.

While much has been made of the influence of Walker Evans on Christenberry, and their shared love of vernacular architecture and found objects (signs, shopfront paintings etc.), this show brought me to the conclusion that while that may certainly have been the case in the earlier part of Christenberry’s career, he has synthesized those fundamental ideas with some influences of Abstract Expressionism and found his way to an approach that has gone somewhere new. Fundamentally, these works seem to be digging further into the concept of time: how the effects of time are seen on buildings and natural landscapes, how people see and internalize those changes, and how they ultimately reconcile those changes with their memories and the importance in preserving a sense of place in our lives. The photographs provide the raw material, the actual documents of the details and of the ongoing decay and deterioration. But they are really only a jumping off point for everything else: the intricate models, the abstracted drawings, and the expressionistic paintings (even the found signs painted on slabs of kitchen countertop are pure de Kooning). Documentary truth has been transformed into evocation and symbolic representation.

So while the works in this show will seem entirely familiar to those who have followed Christenberry over the past decades, perhaps a better way to think of this exhibit is as a 2010 snapshot of the artist’s ongoing flow of study and exploration of place, examples of his continuing efforts to come to grips with the simple idea of memory.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show have the following prices:

  • the 40×50 print in the entry is $13500
  • the 20 image array is $27500
  • the house sculpture is already sold
  • the 3 vintage black and white images are $6000 each (one is from a private collection and not for sale)
  • the 3 encaustic paintings are together $25000
  • the 3 found signs are together $12000
  • the 3 ink drawings are $3000 each
  • the 9 4×5 color images are $3000 or $3500 each

Christenberry’s photographs do not have a broad price history in the secondary markets, as only a few lots seem to come up for sale in any one year. In general, what has mostly sold are his smaller color prints, generally in a range of $1000 to $6000 each; the larger arrays that have been sold can be thought of as using this same individual print price range, only multiplied out by the number of prints in the particular group.

Christenberry’s images of vernacular architecture would fit best into our city/industrial genre, particularly his pared down, straightforward views of the green warehouse or the red building in the forest.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Features: Guardian (here), NY Times (here)
  • Artist talk/Review: Lens Culture (here)
  • Site/Possession @Asheville Art Museum, 2008 (here)

William Christenberry, House and Car and
Through February 6th

Pace/MacGill Gallery
32 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

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