Critics’ Picks

William Eggleston, Untitled from The Democratic Forest, ca. 1983–86, pigment print, 65 x 45 x 2''.

William Eggleston, Untitled from The Democratic Forest, ca. 1983–86, pigment print, 65 x 45 x 2''.

New York

William Eggleston

David Zwirner | 537 West 20th Street
537 W 20th Street
October 27–December 17, 2016

No other year in recent history has exposed so starkly the complex views of democracy in the United States, in private selfhood and social community. And so this gallery’s inaugural showing of William Eggleston, with selections from The Democratic Forest, ca. 1983–86, his epic project of thousands of photographs taken around the country (and a few overseas), could not be more timely. Last year, Steidl launched the resurgence of this work with an elegant ten-volume anthology, the largest compilation of such images to date (the original book was published in 1989, with an introduction by Eudora Welty; Zwirner Books has published its own selection to accompany this show). And if Eggleston’s preferred mode of seeing his photos is flipping through a box of prints, this chance to view some forty hanging on the wall (in two sizes, the largest just over five feet) is not to be missed.

Most of the images in The Democratic Forest were taken on road trips across the US or in intervals between travel—red vinyl rest-stop booths, a swimming-pool astroturf oasis in a parking lot. The selection on view here emphasizes interiors, too, whether a cluster of condiments on a checkered tablecloth or faded lace curtains. These pictures aim to show things as they are when no one is looking at them, which is no small feat. Eggleston’s quest for the subtle truths of the ordinary—he has said that he is “at war with the obvious”—is apparent in his framing of local color and quotidian detail: The facemask hanging idly over tomatoes ripening beside a turquoise sink; a plane cutting through a blue sky near a bright green roof, trailing a message we can make out only the beginning of: PICKLES; a rotary phone resting off the hook on floral sheets stippled with light; a young boy in overalls perusing a gun catalogue. These are quiet novellas, often with a kick of unease and a beauty that would seem accidental if we didn’t know better.