New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

AMERICA BY CAR
Lee Friedlander
Lee Friedlander: America by Car
Reviewer #1
Lee Friedlander, “California, 2008

I want to be able to see like Lee Friedlander when I grow up. The latest show by arguably the best photographer in America, ”America by Car” has 192 images, all taken from the front seat of a car, and one marvels at the curatorial restraint. Arranged around the two galleries in closely spaced double rows, the experience is like a long car trip across America, including Alaska, but without all the boring parts. The density of surreal sites, visual puns, reciprocating shapes, art-photography allusions and illusions, not to mention just goofy things on the side of the road is phenomenal. And then, of course, there is the scene in the side-view mirror in the same picture, often larger than it appears, offering it’s own commentary on the scene. And then there are the molded plastic, vaguely biomorphic doors and windows that frame the various objects in the scene, while also offering their own sardonic remarks about shapes and visual relationships. And then of course there are the skies, sometimes two or three in the same picture. And then there are the people and the trees and – I could go on.

 by unidentified photographer.
Lee Friedlander, “Montana”, 2008

I don’t want to get too analytical here, but, lets just look at one of Friedlander’s pictures, the one that is being used as the main publicity picture of the show, “Montana, 2008”. We are seated in the driver’s seat of a late model, mid-priced car. We are somewhere in the western US, and have just pulled over to gawk at a car that has been hoisted onto a pole, probably next to a garage or junk yard somewhere. We have parked at a bit of an angle and the windsheild and door windows neatly divide the scene into old west on the right and slightly newer west on the left. The sky darker on the right through the tinted windscreen, the angle of the door window, just perfectly parallel to the sides of the elevated car. This is a prototypical American scene, attention-getting, but not really all that unusual. The circles on the dashboard offer a low murmuring echo of the headlights of the elevated car. But then we take a glance into the rearview mirror and see the leap into another level of understanding. There is another, more ordinary pole and another, more ordinary, car, and the asperational aura is palpable. This is a picture that would have taken Gregory Crewsdon three days and a crew of 12 to set up, and you sense that Freidlander would have already driven down the road and discovered a dozen more scenes equally as captivating in the meantime.

This is a joyous show. A Sunday afternoon crowd of families, tourists and photography connoisseurs alike were all smiles, and when you leave you will experience Madison Avenue in a new, multilevel, reflective, Lee Friedlanderish way.

Lee Friedlander
Lee Friedlander: America by Car


Whitney Museum of American Art
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Saturday, September 4 to
Sunday, November 28, 2010
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