Friday, July 15, 2005


My mom is visiting town, so I've had an excuse to do all the touristy things I never get around to. A few days ago we visited the Frist Center, the beautiful new art museum carved out of the old art deco main post office. The showpiece exhibition right now is Renaisance to Rococco. But buried in a small gallery at the back is Twilight, an exhibit of stunning photographs taken by artist Gregory Crewdson. The photos are surreal, elaborately staged tableaus depicting a warped version of American suburbia.

This photo doesn't do the exhibition justice -- the actual prints are 6 feet across, making an astonishing level of detail visible to the naked eye.

My favorite piece -- Untitled (Dead Cow Discovery) -- depicts the discovery of a dead cow in the midst of an generic subdivision. Police and ambulances have been sommoned, and emergency workers in yellow slickers have fanned out across the landscape, searching for, umm, I guess the perpertrator. A detective stands near the cow and stares at the sky in a perplexed way -- was the cow dropped from a passing airplane? Another fireman has climbed a ladder to the roof of one of the houses, and stands near a suspicious-looking scorch mark -- or maybe just water stained shingles.

The whole thing is enchanting and disturbing at the same time. While looking for a copy of the photos, I found them being used to illustrate this article by James Howard Kunstler, a champion of New Urbanism and critic of the faceless sprawl endemic in modern American suburbia. I've always been a fan of this school of thought -- and perhaps that's why these photos appeal to me on such a visceral level. In addition to being beautifully executed, they hint at suburbia's strange, disturbing undercurrents.

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