Saturday, June 18, 2005

Gregory Crewdson's Beneath The Roses

Gregory Crewdson is not your average roving photographer. He is more like a motion picture director who instead uses still cameras for his vision. Setting up a shot requires the help of a cast and crew -- and usually the cooperation of a town or major soundstage. And what he produces are some very eerie photographs, which stretch across walls in the gallery, and reveal the tiniest of details in striking contrast: the pill bottles on a bedside table, the toothbrushes on a sink, the faded signs that peer out onto empty streetscapes, the numbers on the license plate of a beat-up car idling at a stoplight.

I first encountered his work during an art class in college. I was flipping through art magazines and came across some of his photographs. I love art that cries out to have a story attached to it, and Crewdson's shots are often like that. He depicts small-town or suburban settings (often at night or twilight) with solitary individuals or groups of people seemingly detached from one another, many of them pausing in life, looking stunned or haunted by something that's never quite clear. In past series, he's shown beanstalks that rise up in quiet backyards, rolls of sod piled up in a garage, a woman floating Ophelia-like in a flooded living room. Often, he draws on well-known actors and actresses like Julianne Moore and William H. Macy to pose in the photos. [A few years back, the NYT ran a behind-the-scenes slideshow of one of his "productions."]

So it was exciting to finally see his prints up close. I thought today was going to be the last day to see Crewdson's latest exhibit, "Beneath The Roses," at the Luhring Augustine Gallery [site is a pop-up] on 24th Street in Chelsea, but it turns out they've extended it through the end of June. You really can't do the photographs justice in online reproductions, but that said, I was somewhat disappointed by the latest works. Perhaps he raised the bar so high in the past -- with the level of mystery and fantasy thrown into down-and-out landscapes -- that the current pictures seem more banal in a way.

There is still a strong helping of the dramatic, though. An older woman stands naked in a motel bathroom, the hint of blood seen dripping from her. A man stands outside in the rain in the middle of a ghostly street, with his car door open and his briefcase soaking up the water. A group of youngish men and women stand around with flashlights in the woods, gazing into space with several dark holes visible in the brush. A naked couple lie together facing out on a naked mattress in a trash-strewn backyard.

The cinematic and staged quality evokes Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills writ large, while the content of dazed and hollow-eyed Americana is almost Hopper-esque. Some criticize the work for its overabundance of detail, but I really enjoy that level of direction. Still, I almost felt like his style works better when the scenarios were even more over the top and fantastical -- the flower gardens growing inside, the secret world beneath the house, etc.

No comments: