Gregory Crewdson, May 4-June 8, 2002, at Luhring Augustine, 531 West 24th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
I'm not really an art critic, I just play at one on cable TV. Art writing is pretty dry on the whole and doesn't pay much so I really don't want to do it and tend to get all consumed with seriousness.
Most of the time the critic sees the artwork in an art gallery and judges it from there. That's what's expected.
If a writer knows the artist too well and likes the artist, gotten drunk with him, made a video documentary about him, gone to his second wedding and lavish dinners with him, that might be tricky. If the show was a stinker, it would be trickier. In that case I would punt.
I'm a big fan of artists because they can be fun to watch. Really. Peter Halley once told me he liked art he could talk about. Me, I like artists I can talk about. They really aren't like anyone or thing you've seen in the movies. (Larry David is the closest thing to a real artist I've seen on TV.)
Strangely enough, Gregory Crewdson is pretty entertaining to watch if you know what to look for. I saw him on PBS and heard his name was mentioned on Six Feet Under. He was featured in the May issue of Vogue. He teaches at Yale and his past students include several successful, fetching female artists who use photography.
Crewdson's last show at Luhring Augustine Gallery sold well, with pictures going for $7,500 a pop, 13 editions with 12 to an edition. The new show has twice as many pieces at twice the price (counting unexhibited works).
In November 2001 Crewdson married Ivy Shapiro, the director of Barbara Gladstone Gallery and the daughter of sculptor Joel Shapiro. It was the wedding of the week in the high art world. One of the many wedding parties was thrown in Southampton by his very good friends Jeanne Greenberg (of Artemis Greenberg Van Doren) and Nicholas Rohatyn (son of banker Felix Rohatyn). I find this interesting, don't you?
Ahead of the media pack for his latest show was the May issue of Vogue. A feature titled "Twilight Zone" was written by editor-at-large Dodie Kazanjian. (By the way, Kazanjian is married to Calvin Tompkins, art critic for the New Yorker.) It's excellent. A very comprehensive profile of Crewdson and quite level with just the right amount of snarky quotes by colleagues and friends.
It contains, for example, a backhanded compliment to Gregory by the dean of the Yale School of Art, Richard Benson, who actually says he looks down on the art field. Dean Benson needs a whup session.
The best-friend category quote goes to photographer Jessica Craig-Martin. "People accuse Gregory of social climbing, of shallowness, of ruthless self promotion," she says. "These are only a few of my favorite things about him." Whoa, baby, kill me with kindness. The real art world at its backstabbing best.
Now I have to write about the art work. The new exhibition is a continuation of the 2000 show. We might call that "Twilight I." As an audience, we've been on intermission for two years. Like before, the 4 x 6 ft. matte finish Digital Chromogenic Fujicolor prints are very pretty, big-budget-looking photos. Meticulous.
One might say that this is "Twilight II" and Crewdson's version of a suburban Apocalypse Now Redux. If you have seen that movie you may have thought it was good but maybe had too many parts. Same here.
Crewdson's photos look like movie stills and are made like movies, with a load of technicians and complicated sets mostly shot with real people in Lee, Mass. Greg has somehow convinced this little blue collar tract to get into the act. The neighborhood people are pure bubba and really into Greg's production. It's Crewdson's own Art Habitat. Very human.
The show really starts off strong with the first photo of a new house with lit windows against dark hills and storm clouds. I liked it best. Its simple and FX free.
The next one is a guy sitting in his blue Chevy with the trunk open on a very quiet street. It looks like a stage set and that has a weird beauty without being obviously weird.
Then there is a guy on the floor of a living room with blue lights beaming out of what appears to be golf-cup-sized holes in the floor. Maybe he's making a putting green or lost his Prozac, since he looks troubled.
Some of the images are funny, at least to me. There's a naked girl with a nice body standing in front of a mirror. The carpet is blackened around her feet. Did she have an accident or does she sizzle?
Another funny one is a guy holding a hose from a septic vacuum tanker walking up to a porto-potty with blazing smoke billowing out the open door. There are others that could be New Yorker "fill in the caption" works. The best works remind me of John Cheever and worst John Irving.
Martin Scorcese said the most important thing in moviemaking is editing. Maybe there's too much work in the show. It seems like more than before and they start to cancel themselves out with repeat variations. It's a dark journey into a Freudian jungle but when you make Speilberg's Encounters of the Third Kind with piles of sod and flowers it stoops to please.
Crewdson has always been free to admit he's really into Close Encounters and David Lynch's Blue Velvet, with a shot of Norman Rockwell. Is this Crewdson's broadside to the elite conceptual art vanguard? When I saw the picture of a man climbing a beanstalk of flowers I thought, that's a good idea. Get the hell out of here.
The first place to go if you haven't seen "Twilight" here in New York because you aren't even close to New York is go to the bookstore. Big monograph treatment with an essay by Rick Moody. Sheesh. Big essay too. Catalogue essays are a writer's Mother's Milk and Rick Moody gets the whole herd. It's a beautiful book just stay upwind of the essay.
Okay, so there does seem to be an abundance of enthusiasm for Crewdson's part -- at least all the pictures are sold. His head still seems normal-sized. Maybe the art field is getting smaller.
PAUL HASEGAWA-OVERACKER is producer of Gallery Beat television.