November 17, 2008
It will not be news to the photo minded readers of this blog that William Eggleston has finally been officially been canonized with a full blown retrospective (William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008).
The reviews of the show are mainly fairly dull lionizations (Reviews: New York Times, The New York Observer, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, W, and The Herald Tribune). Most of the reviewers seem to struggle to find something interesting to say about the man. The subtext for me is that the work is so obviously sublime that there's not much to say...
To get an idea of how far our collective taste has come, it's instructive (and fun) to read a NYTimes review of Eggleston's first show at the MOMA. Hilton Kramer writing in 1976 seemed positively offended. And of course in retrospect the article is not only a reminder of how shocking Eggleston's work was in historical context but of the courageousness curatorial brilliance of John Szarkowski.
The entire review can be downloaded here (Times id required).
A few choice excerpts:
'Historic breakthroughs are not, alas what they used to be — at least in the world of art.'
'Mr Szarkowski throws all caution to the winds and speaks of Mr. Eggleston's pictures as "perfect".
Perfect? Perfectly banal, perhaps. Perfectly boring, certainly. A perfect example of what, for Mr. Szarkowski and many like-mined connoisseurs of contemporary photography, is now à la mode, But this is not, of course, what Mr. Szarkowski means by "perfect." He means that Mr. Eggleston's pictures achieve a rare degree of excellence and originality, and that—to put the matter mildly—is something about which opinions will differ.'
'That bathroom shower is an index to the kind of subject Mr. Eggleston favors. He likes trucks, cars, tricycles unremarkable suburban houses and dreary landscapes too, and he especially likes his family and friends, who may, for all I know be wonderful people, who who appear in these pictures as dismal figures inhabiting a commonplace world of little visual interest.'
'To this snapshot style, Mr. Eggleston has added some effects borrowed from recent developments in, of all things, photorealist painting—a case, if not of the blind leading the blind, at least of the banal leading the banal...'
update: Youngna shares an amusing (if creepy) anecdote about meeting Eggleston last year.