Monday, February 28, 2011

John Lehr, Stet @ Kate Werble Gallery

MOMA’s New Photography 2010 announced the dawning of a photographic era dominated by the art of the random. If this tide of Roe Ethridge madness can be halted, it is by the unassuming and subtly coherent photographs of John Lehr at the Kate Werble Gallery. At first glance, Lehr’s exhibition is a random assortment of storefronts, windows, advertisements, venetian blinds and building entrances tied together only by his use of a dulling sun-baked white of stucco in sleepy shore towns. A color palate so whitewashed and faded that it is hard to look at without squinting. Lehr’s white palate is broken up with the occasional garish burst of color that makes sense only on signs advertising rooms for rent, unspecified employment and dangerous house pets.  

As the exhibition unfolds, the pictures start to find a rhythm as little glimpses of storefront signs, a white building, a weathered indecipherable sign, a shuttered bank start to locate the viewer in a nondescript area off the highway where you might find gas or something to eat late at night. Places where strip malls, diners, and outlet stores fight for space with an ambitious allotment of parking. Areas of America that stretch between suburbs and cities, along highways like routes 1 through 22 in New Jersey. Towns that are passed by, but are becoming home, sites of employment, and an inescapable way of life for many of the newly working poor.

As much as the pictures could resemble something from a Springsteen song, Lehr’s skilled visual restraint, relying on sign fonts and smudged windows, creates a downplayed but believable image of a specific socioeconomic existence. Images that put the viewer into the day-to-day life of the lower working class by focusing on little things only seen while catching a smoke between shifts, running errands or waiting to pick up the kids. Images that become a reaffirming slice of lives that are culturally and politically invisible. A demographic wealthy enough not to be a blight but too poor to spend time following elections or spending on luxury goods.

As wonderful as Lahr’s pictures are, the show can be boiled down to one picture, a photograph of a window with painted letters that range from sky to aqua blue against white blinds. Bordered by a royal blue window frame, the letters spell out a free-form poem that could easily have stood in for the show’s press release.


           REEF SUPPLIES

                                       COMPETING WITH THE BIG BOYS
                                  FOF OVER 15 YEARS

Kate Werble Gallery (83 Vandam St., New York, NY 10013)


Post a Comment