seeing out loud

Seeing Out Loud: Saltz on Thomas Eggerer at Petzel Gallery

Thomas Eggerer, Installation view, Petzel, New York, 2013.
Thomas Eggerer’s work at Petzel Gallery. Photo: Jason Mandella/Courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York.

The second I saw Thomas Eggerer’s current large show at Petzel Gallery — the artist’s fourth here since 2004—I thought, This overrated art star is way out of gas, going through the motions. As I lingered, looking, going from work to work and back again, things only devolved. I thought, I know this feeling. It’s that, sadly, these purposeless humdrum shows by fairly well-known artists are becoming more common.

At the risk of boring you with a little description, all the paintings are pointlessly big, physically unoriginal, and aimlessly narrative. All are said to be priced in the $40,000-to-$100,000 range. The colors are either wan and washed-out or solid. Almost every one shows a grouping of largish illustrational figures, mainly young boys. These characters walk, stoop, carry backpacks, stand with bicycles. The drawing style — if you can call what Eggerer is doing either “drawing” or a “style” — is plainly generic postmodern non-drawing, coming more or less directly from academic art handbooks or the sorts of figures used in advertising and instructional manuals. Call it Scared Aimless–ism. The mostly outlined figures are placed in otherwise dull, completely familiar abstract grounds. Why anyone would want to make these placeholders for thought, or exhibit them, or live with one of them, is difficult to ascertain. They look made for Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

The press release claims the figures are “performative agents in landscapes.” The narratives “signal new complexities” and “remain rather mysterious.” Allow me to translate this obfuscation. It means “these figures and narratives are so lame and vapid that we’re using that nine-dollar term for people. We’re saying “they remain mysterious” so no one even tries to engage these oversmart manipulations of obvious elements on commonplace all-over fields. Buy one.

We all have bad outings. Yet the kind of bottoming-out of overpriced highly marketed artists that we see now regularly in megagalleries is, increasingly, not confined to those spaces. It’s become systemic. Eggerer is just another blue-chip artist who was overvalued and overrated from the beginning. The market did what the market does with artists like him. So did curators. That’s nothing new. But the sort of flagrant bottoming-out that Eggerer evinces is being repeated all over the globe, in spaces both mega and not. Artists and galleries are sliding away from the artistic depths — confused yet confident, with compasses broken.

At Petzel Gallery through November 9.

Seeing Out Loud: Saltz on Thomas Eggerer