Saturday, April 15, 2017

Roe Ethridge, American Spirit @ Andrew Kreps

I love Roe Ethridge, but that last show had me shaken. I thought maybe the man who birthed a million undergrad portfolios of random free associated photographs was finally hitting an end point for bodies of pictures that kind of make sense together. And like all agents of change, when the world catches up, your new work become more footnote than avant-garde. But oh, shit, the king is back with work that certainly takes his formal, well-crafted vernacular pictures and steps it up. Here he offers layers of pictures on pictures that at times create a rapturous explosion of image culture into a fluorescent yellow haze or at times just looks like the visual manifestation of my cluttered desktop. But the fact that some of the new work fails hard is exactly why Ethridge is badass. He is pushing his art into a place where it might not work, but for better or worse, it feels like work trying to break out of what it had become, that is, a predictable collection of tasteful well-executed photographs and create something that, even when it works, is kind of hard to look at. Now there are some visual connections in the grouping of pictures, say, flowers next to a program from the Rose Bowl that seem ham-fisted. If overwrought, ugly collages aren’t your thing, then Ethridge always has some stunning photographs of landscapes and models to balance out the visual chaos. Also, the book is even better than the show. In the book, the visual connections between Ethridge’s pictures and American Spirits cigarettes are both clearer and subtler. It is very exciting to see Ethridge back kicking ass, but like all things when does it end? When does he run out of an ability to mine the abundance of vernacular images to create bodies of loosely associated photographs? I am not sure, but he has strung it out this long with a degree of success that makes each new show even more compelling than the last.

Already Down
Andrew Kreps (537 W 22nd St., Btw. 10th & 11th Aves.)


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