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Untitled, 1970

Untitled, 1970
signed, titled, dated and numbered '1/2' with Eggleston Artistic Trust number in ink and copyright reproduction limitation on affixed label (flush mount, verso)
pigment print, flush-mounted on board, printed 2012
overall framed: 44 1/8 x 59 7/8 in. (112 x 152 cm.)
This work is number one from an edition of two.
Photographic Masterworks by William Eggleston Sold to Benefit the Eggleston Artistic Trust, Christie's, New York, 12 March 2012, lot 24, courtesy of the artist
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
John Szarkowski, William Eggleston's Guide, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1976, cover and p. 81.
Keith Davis, An American Century of Photography, from Dry-Plate to Digital, The Hallmark Photographic Collection, Kansas City and New York, 1999, p. 471.
William Eggleston, The Hasselblad Award 1998: William Eggleston, Hasselblad Center, Zürich, 1999, n.p.
Exhibition catalogue, William Eggleston, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, 2002, pl. 94.
Exhibition catalogue, William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008, Whitney Museum of Art, New York, 2008, pl. 22, p. 67.
Kevin Moore, Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980, Art Museum, Cincinnati, 2010, pl. 138.
Jeff Rosenheim, Photography's Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2020, p. 86.

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

“Memphis (Tricycle) has become the archetypal example of Eggleston’s contribution to the art form, just like ‘Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare’ has for Cartier-Bresson and ‘Rhein II’ has for Gursky. These photographs, in retrospect, are some of the clearest and most accomplished examples of the new movements to which they belong.” - David Cohen de Lara

Considered one of the foremost American photographers of his generation, William Eggleston’s work has influenced generations of image makers around the globe. His one man exhibition of color photographs at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976—and the accompanying catalogue referred to as his “Guide” was a turning point in the medium’s history for several reasons. First and foremost, color photographs simply were not in the realm of art; the visual language of black-and-white photographs had long been accepted as not only the preferred styled but the only truly acceptable form for a serious art photograph. The work of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams in the first half of the twentieth century was proof enough. Likewise, serious Guggenheim Fellows like Robert Frank or Lee Friedlander photographed almost exclusively in black and white.

Color was the domain of birthday parties and graduations, of snapshots made in front of monuments, and of weddings and pets. They were the domain of slick advertising pics and vernacular family photo albums. Eggleston’s photographic output was not only in color, but of the seemingly banal objects of everyday life—a lightbulb in the ceiling, a person walking on the side of the road, a child’s tricycle. Pictured here were the tossed aside objects of everyday life and the casual moments that make up the day; nothing special seemed to be happening. There were no views of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, or a sensual female nude figure study, the stuff of “serious art photography.”

This vision was radical, misunderstood and completely unexpected. John Szarkowski, the newly appointed head of the Photographs Department at MoMA, had inherited a carefully cultivated, if somewhat limited, vision of photography from his two predecessors, Beaumont Newhall and Edward Steichen, and knew that Eggleston’s work would leave its mark both for the artist and for him.

The images were either dismissed by contemporary critics or reviled for their apparent meaninglessness. Szarkowski, however, was a tenacious defender, writing that: “If Eggleston’s perspective is essentially romantic, however, the romanticism is different in spirit and aspect from that with which we are familiar in the photography of the past generation. In that more familiar mode, photographic romanticism has tended to mean the adoption and adaptation of large public issues, social or philosophical, for private artistic ends … In Eggleston’s work these characteristics are reversed, and we see uncompromisingly private experience described in a manner that is restrained, austere, and public…” (J. Szarkowski, William Eggleston’s Guide, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1976, p. 11).

Eggleston’s influence over the intervening decades cannot be understated, careening not only through the field of photography but also that of cinema. “It has frequently been noted that the visual worlds evoked by several eminent contemporary film directors, perhaps most memorably David Lynch, owe a very significant debt to the subtle psychological impact of Eggleston’s images,” wrote Philippe Garner in the 2012 catalogue. The image both stood out from and epitomized the various movements in photography in the 1970s. It illustrates the time period, finds beauty in the commonplace, and hints at “the desolation that lurks behind the façade of American suburbia,” as one writer put it.

The print offered here was first sold in the Christie’s salerooms in 2012 as part of a landmark auction during which 36 key images from the photographer’s archive were chosen to be produced as oversized pigment prints, in a very limited edition of two. Of those two prints, only one work was released for sale.

For decades, Eggleston’s color work had been produced using a highly stable commercial printing technique called “dye transfer process.” Yielding saturated colors at chemically stable, the dye transfer process had one major limitation: scale. In the early years of the 21st century, developments in printing processes had evolved rapidly, and the ability to produce satisfying results in color that were likewise chemically stable, unlike the large chromogenic prints (C-Prints) of the 80s and 90s, enthralled Eggleston, who undertook a re-examination of his own archive to choose the works presented in the 2012 auction.

“The composition appears so intuitive, so natural. It is not forced upon us at all. It appears the simplest thing, but of course when you analyze it—it becomes quite sophisticated —and the messages that these pictures can release to us are quite complex and fascinating.” - Martin Parr, writing about Untitled, 1970

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