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Art Review: William Christenberry at Marc Selwyn Fine Art

May 5, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Before cellphones became cameras, people kept pictures of their loved ones in wallets and purses, pulling out the bent, sometimes dog-eared prints to hand them to friends, whose reactions spoke volumes, often in split-seconds. At Marc Selwyn Fine Art, William Christenberry’s photographs take visitors back to those days — and beyond.

Christenberry House with FlagNo bigger than postcards, the Washington, D.C.-based artist’s digital and Ektacolor prints depict barns, churches, stores, roadways and graves in rural Alabama, where Christenberry was born in 1936 and to which he returns, year after year. The show’s single sculpture, a diorama-size church painted bright white, lacks the magic of the photographs.

Christenberry’s individual prints are gems: unsentimental talismans that capture, with endearing intimacy, the fleeting beauty of unrepeatable moments.

In some cases, this involves late afternoon sunlight spilling down cinderblock walls, flickering through a tree’s leaves or sparkling off corrugated tin roofs. In others, the poetry resides in the shadows, in little pools of coolness amid the blistering midday sun, in tidy lines temporarily sketched across clapboard walls and in the gloom of the woods, where silence haunts.

Even better are Christenberry’s multi-picture pieces. Four of these neat arrays form the show’s heart and soul. Each consists of 17-21 photographs of the same home, building or warehouse that Christenberry has photographed from different perspectives. Each piece occupied him for about three decades, the earliest, “Palmist Building,” from 1961 to 1988.

Each group offers ample possibilities to compare and contrast. Unlike film stills, which create this-follows-that sequences, Christenberry’s chronologically arranged images invite viewers to see everything all at once and to skip, forth and back, freely, at whatever pace you please.

Sometimes it’s easy to see time’s passage, from season to season, sapling to tree, abandoned building to collapsed ruin. At others you follow the photographer’s movements as he sets up each shot. Together, Christenberry’s pictures play off of Minimalist seriality, tugging memory into the picture, along with all the joys and regrets that go along with it.

 -- David Pagel

Marc Selwyn Fine Art, 6222 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 101, through May 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays. (323) 933-9911, www.marcselwynfineart.com

 Images: William Christenberry, "House with Flag (vertical), Greensboro, Alabama," Credit: Marc Selwyn Fine Art

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