Gregory Crewdson: An Eclipse of Moths
Gagosian, Beverly Hills
through November 21
Written by Shana Nys Dambrot
A suite of new photographs by Gregory Crewdson prove why he is the reigning master of middle American melancholy and New England-style societal entropy. Across several projects of recent years, Crewdson’s cinematic eye, deft attention to detail, and nuanced atmospheric stage-setting have produced haunting tableaux, both operatic and dilapidated. The settings are suburban loose ends, but often a verdant if rather feral nature frames, encroaches, and cradles the scenarios of quiet desperation. The stars of these shaggy passion plays are forlorn, mostly white, mostly isolated folks with crutches, no shoes, thousand-yard stares and inscrutable intentions. It appears they have lost something (everything?) and sort of gave up in mid-stride, like broken wind-up toys.
It’s poignant, but in these polarized times, this narrative of redemption for the forgotten American so often dovetails with conceptions of electoral politics, that despite the plenitude of human emotion, empathy is sometimes hard to come by. It’s a little bit of a queasy feeling to be considering these photographs on the literal eve of the American presidential election. But the power of this work is such that we don’t need to feel empathy for the people in these photographs, because the artist does it for us. In specific compositional details such as how each image is constructed around a meaningful light source, in richly researched art historical references from Hopper to David, in meticulous location scouting and production value, and in the show’s title itself, Crewdson signals his intentions to pluck heartstrings and transport the viewer into the protagonists’ circumstances.
An Eclipse of Moths in evoking the moth’s necessary and often fatal relationship to light, implicates the failings of our shared human nature in whatever downfall has occurred. It’s a relatable emotion, even if you’ve never stood, shirtless, in a rainy parking lot, or looked for an abandoned gurney in a bit of forest out back, or met a client in a carnival junkyard. Elsewhere in town, a bus avoids crashing into a downed lamppost at what seems like dawn — dark enough for all the lights to still be on, light enough to read in the steely, wet glow that disinterest of all witnesses. A shipping container on fire is the most excitement some teenagers have had in months. A condemned house, with its shredded remnants of easy chair and concrete patio becomes a strange kind of sanctuary. It’s a paradoxical medley of cinema verite with magical realism, and you find yourself in the gallery, holding your breath along with the figures.
In these and companion scenarios, what Crewdson provides is an abundance of pictorial space with which to enter the worlds of the stories, even if you can’t enter the minds of its characters. Besides their large scale panoramic format, within each work is a central open space — a parking lot, a wide cul de sac, an empty main street, a clearing in the woods, a wide flat intersection, the frayed edges of a generic industrial site. The foreground is never blocked, but tipped toward the viewer like an open door. Train tracks, paths, and roadways lead away toward the back of the places, sometimes to the horizon. These are dead ends, but they aren’t prisons. The masterful way Crewdson bounces light around from the foreground to smatterings of hidden sources, throwing intimate radiance on the perimeter, and touching here and there on other faces, humidity, mist, puddles, reflections, windows, and mysterious interiors, also creates en energy of entrance into the hushed world of the image. The figures are frozen, but the viewer’s eyes are not. This too is America, the images seem to say; come on in, and let yourself feel it.
Gagosian Beverly Hills
456 N Camden Dr, Beverly Hills, 90210