Magazine article Artforum International

Bill Owens: James Cohan Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Bill Owens: James Cohan Gallery

Article excerpt

Add another name to the growing list of 1970s American photographers recently "rediscovered" by the contemporary art world. You could say that this resurgence began with 303 Gallery's exhibition of Stephen Shore's photographs in 2000. That show, Shore's first New York solo exhibition in five years, put his dusty road pictures and poignant slices of rural ennui (abandoned drive-in theaters, expansive skies over desolate byways) in a new, hipper context. The tendency has continued with a reinvigorated market for William Eggleston and the reemergence of other prominent figures from the period, including Robert Adams, Mitch Epstein, Joel Sternfeld, and Mary Ellen Mark. And now, Califomia-based photographer Bill Owens has earned his own moment in the sun.

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Owens's book Suburbia, first published in 1973, sold over fifty thousand copies and put this Livermore Independent news photographer on the cultural map. But two subsequent books did less well, and Owens retreated from photography in the early '80s to become proprietor of a microbrewery and, later, publisher of Beer: The Magazine. Owens has been the subject of regular--if scattershot--exhibitions over the past twenty years, but James Cohan Gallery evidently felt that the artist needed a new introduction: The work in this show dated from 1968 to 1981, with an emphasis on the early '70s.

"America," the show's title, requires a qualifier. Like Eggleston, Owens is a regional photographer, and his beat is middle-class life in the northern California suburbs he calls home--a fact emphasized by the arrangement of this miniretrospective of three dozen mostly black-and-white shots from his three best-known series. A suburban cul-de-sac, shot from midair, dominates the first picture one encounters, with tract homes spread like carpet all the way to the distant mountains. …

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