Into the teaming pool of aesthetically malnourished wealth that is modern Palo Alto – our left leaning, self-proclaimed ‘City of Trees’ – this week descends a line bated with the tasty morsel that is Sotheby’s presentation of William Eggleston’s helpfully-titled pop-up show ‘Democratic Forest.’ For what are we, if not that? Well, that and a city of people legendarily too busy to even furnish their cash-purchased million dollar bungalows, let alone put something on the walls.
Sotheby’s is fishing here for just three days, it turns out, taking over the Bryant Street Gallery between shows and unsure if the prize shoppers among us will bite. And that’s canny, too. Because who knows what anyone here thinks about art, least of all those in possession of the money to buy it at the rarified levels at which this exhibition is playing.
“Have you been busy?” I asked today at lunch time, already half
way through the show. “We hope to be,” the nice gallery staffer replied. It’s
debatable whether that leaves enough time for the Valley’s generally
over-committed citizenry to flock by. Understandably, but somewhat incongruously, Sotheby’s is
hedging its bets by also offering fine wines (with a heavy emphasis on French
reds) at the show as well. I suppose you do what you think it will take.
I was discussing just this very question – what it actually takes
to show, share, and sell art in the Valley – the other day with my friends
Pamela and Mitchell, a knowledgeable
local collector and distinguished local artist, respectively. None of us were
sure about what you can really say about the economy of art here. I’ve written
community’s troubled relationship with architecture and much the same goes
for the objects you might put in it. Certainly, we have a long
way to go with public art. And we’re as keen on collecting
Pez dispensers and Panzer
tanks as Pollocks.
It’s also true that things are changing. As Mitchell noted in
blog post last week, the arrival of the magnificent Andersons at Stanford is a truly world
class event. And the appearance of pop-ups like the Eggleston show and those at
the new Pace Gallery outpost
in Menlo Park tell us that the major art world sharks, to shift piscine
metaphors, are circling.
But I hope we don’t just create a copy of what you can find
elsewhere. I think there’s a way in which our nerdy appreciation for mechanical
invention and design can converse with more traditional and patrician high art
sensibilities and recalibrate a little, perhaps, what is interesting and worth
celebrating – and buying, even.
The Eggleston pictures, meanwhile, are fantastic. And they
fit an aesthetic that does, indeed, have a history of science and engineering side
to it (read Mitchell’s blog
for an artist’s insight into Eggleston and the color process), although I’m
not sure how the fact that these are contemporary digital prints (by the
artist) from the old-fashioned color negative impacts that story. Still,
there’s plenty here to engage the various levels at which the Valley thinks.
I appreciated the seventeen photographs most as documentary pieces, and for an approach to composition that achieves balance without either being boring or falling prey to the overt showy-ness to which many documentarians of the American underbelly are prone. Ironically, the project from which these prints (priced at $30,000 to $300,000) are drawn focuses on the relentlessly ordinary in some of the nation’s least affluent corners. But in the land of the $22,000 bicycle, price will be far less of an issue than persuading people that a deeply engaging but static image is worth their time.