Roe Ethridge’s Slippery Art and Commerce

The first photo of Roe Ethridge’s ‘American Polychronic’, his voluminous new block of a survey of the careers of Mac, depicts a buttery yellow two-door refrigerator covered with papers and photos, in his parents’ suburban Atlanta home. As an introductory image, it’s both spectacularly insignificant and, in the style of William Eggleston, casually iconic, even a little wondrous. It is a style that, since the turn of the new millennium, Ethridge has redefined on his own terms, and with remarkable success in art and commerce. Like so many contemporary photographers (Wolfgang Tillmans, Collier Schorr, Juergen Teller, Cindy Sherman), he does not isolate his editorial from his gallery work, and in “American Polychronic” they are completely mixed. Trying to tell one from the other is both futile and pointless. As two sides of the same career, they inform, ignite, and subvert each other, which brings us back to that refrigerator. Ethridge shot it as part of an assignment for the New York Times Magazine which was never published, but he loved it too much to let it die. He included it in a show at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, in the summer of 1999, where it was considered a signature image. A year or two later, he appeared in a print ad for a kitchen-related product that never took off. Now, says Ethridge, he sees it as “kind of the key to everything.”

“Refrigerator”, 1999.

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