Gregory Crewdson’s ‘Santuary’

The haunting photographs of Cinecittà in Gregory Crewdson’s Sanctuary (at White Cube Mason’s Yard until 8 January 2011)

Gregory Crewdon’s Sanctuary is all about revelation. His previous bodies of work like Beneath the Roses showed fantastical representations of the everyday, people and places of a hyper-real nature. Knowing that these were elaborately constructed scenarios and that the image itself was a result of intense artistic labour was part of the fun. Santuary strips the theatricality way down but still advances Crewdson’s interest in the collision of fact and the fictionalized through the black-and-white photographs of Cinecittà.

Briefly Cinecittà (the city of cinema) is the Italian cinema studio built by Mussolini in 1937 that has been the site of countless film treasures from both Italy and America throughout the decades. Still operable today after an upgrade in the 80s, Crewdson captures the almost apocalyptic ruins of this anonymous international cityscape. Dario Argento considers Cinecittà to be a ‘mythic zone’ and Santuary captures this weight of this sentiment. For instance, Untitled 9 has a boat, dilapidated bleechers, and an ornamental frame set in the foreground in the abandoned cityscape. If this isn’t the stuff of dreams, I’m not sure what is.

With forty-one photographs, Santuary recalls the seriality of the Becher’s industrial documentation and with each successive photo one can almost hear ‘Marcello’ being called from La Dolce Vita or witness Elizabeth Taylor snogging Richard Burton during Cleopatra. For a cinephile, these projections of grandeur can be inserted onto such haunting and desolate images. It’s because Crewdson reveals the guts of the whole operation (i.e. what our film fantasies are made of) at a respectable distance that the audience is allowed this wonderful space in which to project. These photographs are brilliant in their simplicity and surprisingly luscious in detail. They are very much about what architectural spaces mean to us, particularly when they are in ruin. Ambiguous by design, Cinecittà is a blank canvas for narrative and Sanctuary quietly brings to mind what remains in our memory, in history, and in fantasy.

What is real in movie making anyway or in art making either for that matter? They are only representations of things/places/people and, in still images like photography and painting, just a chosen frozen moment of the narrative is depicted. Crewdson repeatedly reveals the structure stills of Cinecittà in Santuary (scaffolding erected onto ‘Roman’ buildings and the backs of interior walls) and its place within the real world (apartment buildings dwell domestically in the background). Make no mistake, this is not present day glamour but as much of an authentic representation as we’ll get of the inauthentic.