From Marlboro Ads to Appropriation Muse, The Cowboys Photographs of Jim Krantz

At Danziger Gallery, a show of familiar photographs foregrounds an underappreciated photographer—the man behind a myth of appropriation. Jim Krantz, commercial and fine art photographer, shares his vision of the West: a summation of American values both real and imagined.

Although Jim Krantz’s name may not be well known, his art is highly recognizable. Krantz has made both commercial and fine art photographs for several decades, including a notorious set of western genre scenes shot for a Marlboro Cigarettes advertising campaign. The series was famously appropriated by Richard Prince, who re-photographed these images for use in his iconic Cowboys suite. But Krantz’s diligent work is also thoughtful, provocative, and deserving of recognition beyond its association with Prince. His new show, on view at Danziger Gallery, trumpets his influences and exhorts his ideas.

In Epic Western #4, Krantz depicts the grand sweep of the landscape of the American West. To the right, a cowboy mounted on his horse looks out over the prairie. The large, four-by-five foot photograph is primarily cloudy sky and horizon, with rolling, golden hills and the rider, who is tucked into the right corner. Here, Krantz’s vision might recall that of East Asian scroll painting, in the way that the landscape dwarfs the figure in both its scale and sublimity.

Epic Western #5 provides a much closer view of a cowboy as he and his horse appear to gallop through the clouds, kicking up dust as they approach an idyllic blue sky. Here Krantz is brilliant with his use of color, captured at high speed with great detail. The open sky above the cowboy contrasts with the clouds behind him, and the rich, oxide-red earth beneath him. The horse is portrayed with grace and power, under the smooth control of the rider. 

In Epic Western #9, the rider is presented in union with the earth: clothing, horse, and ground are nearly the same color. Krantz’s ability to capture and print the fleeting effects of light and color in a dynamic landscape is stunning. His works reflects a dictum that he learned from Ansel Adams, that “technical proficiency leads to artistic freedom.”

Epic Western #7 may be Krantz’s most dramatic work on view. A rider canters in profile; he and the landscape are set in stark silhouette against a massive sunset. Blues, grays, yellows, oranges, and silver tones are cast onto the clouds overhead. It ought not be surprising that this is work that Richard Prince reproduced: they are stunning renditions of Americana, both sincere and mythic.

Stephen Dillon

Jim Krantz” is on view at Danziger Gallery, New York, Feb. 12–Mar. 21, 2015.

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