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April 18 2014

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McGinley, Teller, Tillmans, Et Al: Everybody Hearts Eggleston

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In an email to Style.com last week, Ryan McGinley shared a few highlights from Paris Fashion Week and let us in on a little secret. “I love me some William Eggleston,” he wrote. When the exhibit William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008 opens today at the Whitney Museum of American Art, visitors with an eye for some of today’s most prominent image makers in fashion will see that he is not alone.

Eggleston’s spare and richly hued pictures of a tricycle abandoned somewhere in the Mississippi Delta, a woman sitting on a curb in suburban Memphis, Tennesee, and other Southern vernacular have cast a spell on everyone from Sofia Coppola, David Lynch, and Larry Clark to Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Juergen Teller. It’s an impressive legacy; when the photographer premiered his work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976, it was the first time color photography was mounted on a museum wall. Though a New York Times critic dismissed it outright as “perfectly banal” and worse, “snapshot chic.” McGinley said he first came across the work of Eggleston, often called the father of color photography, at the Strand bookstore. “He had a book for sale there called The Democratic Forest,” said McGinley. ” It looked expensive and the Strand sold it for $5.99! I bought that book as a gift for everyone and their mother for probably about three years. Everyone was so happy with it, and I got to spread the Eggleston photographic love.”

Last night’s opening brought a lively crowd to the Whitney, but the real action wasn’t in the pinot-noir area, but on the third floor, where the legendary photographer, sporting neatly parted hair and an undone green bow tie, sat surrounded by adoring fans. “Are you seeing this feeding frenzy?” observed museum director Adam Weinberg. “This room, my guess, is 25 percent photographers and the rest wish they were.” The crowd included Teller, as well as a giddy-looking Cynthia Rowley, who was looking to add to her collection of artist autographs. (She’s got Koons, Damien Hirst, and close to a dozen books and monographs signed by Richard Prince.) “Robert Frank is very hard to get—he’s a little bit monastic—but I have one,” she boasted. “He was in an elevator, and had nowhere else to go!”

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