“It is the genius of William Christenberry to stir up intensely evocative emotions and meanings from common, even humble, pieces of the world.”

— Howard N. Fox, curator of modern and contemporary art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

If you call the current comprehensive exhibition of William Christenberry's work a "retrospective," he will politely correct you with his charming Southern drawl: "It's not a retrospective, because I'm not dead yet."

Nevertheless, the show at the Smithsonian, and the accompanying book by Aperture, show the artist and his evolutions and variations and recurrent themes in near encyclopedic form. We discover his strong reliance on photography dating from his first photographs from 1961 (used primarily as source material for his painting and sculpture), through his instant leap from a brownie camera to an 8 x 10 view camera (at the insistence of his friend Lee Friedlander) in the mid 1970s.

His professional interests have remained intensely personal throughout his career. He values vernacular architecture and signs from the southern United States. And he continues to document these kinds of subjects year after year, to show the deterioration and changes brought about by time and nature and human intervention.

The book itself is beautifully designed and printed. The sequencing of material allows you the shock of recognition at the passing of 20-plus years of time, year by year, of some of the same subject matter. And we are able to experience how a talented painter and sculptor like Christenberry can use these captured fleeting moments of time to create paintings, sculptures and collages.Christenberry spoke to an audience of photography enthusiasts on December 1, 2006 at a presentation for San Francisco's PhotoAlliance and Aperture West. Here you can listen to some choice bits from that presentation:

William Christenberry audio: About bringing photography into his practice as a painter and sculptor: and personal anecdotes about some of his iconic images: Green Warehouse, BBQ Inn, Red Building in Forest, Coca-Cola Sign, Door with Christmas Lights, plus comments about current work of dreamlike sculptures of imaginary Southern Monuments.

 — Jim Casper