William Eggleston, 21st Century @Cheim & Read

JTF (just the facts): A total of 24 color images, framed in white and matted, and hung in two skylit gallery spaces divided by a wall partition. All of the works are pigment prints, printed in editions of 7, and sized 28×22 or reverse. The images were taken between 1999 and 2007. A similar exhibition is running concurrently at Victoria Miro in London (here). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: While the pairing of Diane Arbus and William Eggleston has some obvious rock star marketing appeal, I’d like to think that of all the works that could have been chosen to juxtapose with new pictures by Eggleston, the selection of Arbus’ images without people is a thoughtful reminder of one of things that has been happening in Eggleston’s work in recent years – the people have been disappearing.

I think there are several important trends to be discovered in Eggleston’s work of the past decade, all on display in this fine exhibit:

  • Across the board, there is less story and/or narrative to be discerned; with one exception (a frontal head shot), there are virtually no portraits or interactive human scenes in this show. There are no back stories or tall tales to be imagined or puzzled out, and the environment is no longer completely rooted in the American South.
  • The compositions are becoming altogether more fragmented and painterly. While the images are still representational (with recognizable objects as subjects), the works oscillate back and forth between simple documentation of “things” and purer aesthetic relationships of form and color. These visual interconnections of space, texture and pigment occur in ways that are wholly unrelated to the content or context of the subject matter. I hesitate to take the easy way out and call the works “abstract”, as I think that misses the intensity of the back and forth movement between simple recognition and more complex color theory.
  • The prints are now digital, and are getting bigger. This is exposing some minor flaws in the technical aspects of Eggleston’s focus and printing; the icebox image is particularly grainy and digitally pixelated.

Walking around the exhibit, my brain followed a familiar pattern in front of each picture: an initial period of recognition (what exactly is this?), followed quickly by a more protracted look at the two dimensional space of the photograph, and how Eggleston had used the colors and shapes to create pattern and composition:

  • Soapy water on a car windshield becomes a cosmic brew of blue, green, and purple.
  • A red dumpster sits in the alley behind an orange building with a red door; the content dissolves and the image becomes a study in angles and hues.
  • A table with a chaotic jumble of kitchy dated lamps is further complicated by the arcs of orange and blue hula hoops stored underneath and a dark black shadow that carves its way across the upper left corner.

My two favorite pictures in the show were the image of a pink tiled bathroom in Cuba, with veiled light shining in through the pale orange and pink billows of a linen curtain, and the image of a silver spoon left on a rough hewn windowsill in Kentucky, flanked by yellow painted clapboard and shards of broken glass splattered on the deck below; the composition is a master class in slashing lines and diagonals.

While each image in this show can hold your interest intellectually, not every one is equally moving or memorable; there is a hit or miss quality to the work that left me repeatedly circling back to the those successful pictures that vibrated with more lyrical power. But even with a little unevenness, there are plenty of examples of Eggleston at his best on view here, taking seeming casual glances at the mundane and turning them into something spectacular.

Collector’s POV: The works in this exhibit are being sold in price escalating editions of 7; the prints begin at $7500, move to $10000, and end at $12000 – several of the images I inquired about (including the pink curtain) were already sold out. Eggleston prints are now routinely available in the secondary markets, where recent prices have ranged from approximately $5000 all the way up to $250000 for his most iconic vintage dye transfers. The 2008 auction of the Berman collection of Eggleston images at Christie’s is a good source for current market conditions for his work.

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One comment

  1. Anonymous /

    The image and print quality in this show are an utter embarrassment.

    Many of the images are blurred. Many of the prints are soft and/or filled with noise. The colors are just wrong, and not in a cool, Eggleston way.

    What were Eggleston, his printers and Cheim & Read thinking?!

    Worst. Digital. Print job. Ever.

    And DLK, your failure to either notice or address this issue is disappointing, as well. Take a closer look.

    Sadly, in this case, the emperor has no clothes.

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