San Francisco

Bill Dane

Fraenkel Gallery

Eccentric, absurd, and often comic facets of contemporary life are the dominant motifs in Bill Dane’s photographs. Though he works in the 35-mm tradition of Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, he has never offered the somber, slightly menacing visions of contemporary existence that at times characterize the work of those photographers. Dane opts for whimsy over hard-core reality, and much like the California funk artists who probably influenced him, this painter-turned-photographer celebrates the tacky and ridiculous. The most distinctive characteristic of his work is a sense of passive, uncritical acceptance of the more dubious triumphs of modern civilization: artificial snow, Andre cold duck, a model of the Statue of Liberty built from Lego blocks. In their close-to-flat print quality, Dane’s photographs show a humbleness utterly in keeping with their lowbrow subject matter.

This show differed from earlier exhibitions in that it included color work—Dane’s first attempts in the genre. Also, it was limited to pictures made in California. Color has enhanced but not really altered Dane’s point of view. A few pictures depend exclusively on color for effect, such as a shot of the blue-and-gold-tiled swimming pool at San Simeon, and a selection of rock samples shaped and polished like billiard balls. Mostly, however, color is used simply and effectively to reinforce a sense of the artificial quality of the subject at hand.

In terms of both content and photographic structure, this work, all created in the past two years, seems to suffer from an overriding simplicity. Dane’s older photographs depend on a visual eccentricity-resulting either from unexpected juxtapositions of subjects or from the transformation, through careful composition, of a mundane subject into something thoroughly enigmatic. At times in this recent work, as in a photograph of a contorted dancer counterpointed against her snapshooting patrons, Dane strikes a comic, tacky, yet undeniably human note. More often, though, the subject matter is so tediously portentous—a dead fox in the middle of a highway, or a display case filled with concentration camp artifacts, for example—that humor is out of the question.

Dane is like a stand-up comedian who barrages his audience with a rapid succession of one-liners. When he is “on,” his images are amusing and ironic comments on modern life, Some of the photographs here are on target, but the ensemble as a whole fell a bit flat—a failing which may have more to do with the editing of the show than with the recent direction of the photographer’s work.

Hal Fischer