From: The New York Times | July 21, 2006 | by Ken Johnson | Art in Review; J. Bennett Fitts -- No Lifeguard on Duty

Julie Saul Gallery 535 West 22nd Street, Chelsea Through Aug. 11

The beautiful, large color photographs of 1960's-era motel swimming pools -- mostly abandoned -- by J. Bennett Fitts, a young California artist, owe something to Ed Ruscha and Bernd and Hilla Becher. Like them, Mr. Fitts has inventoried an unlovely feature of the modern environment in lucidly objectifying images. In contrast to the Bechers' quasiscientific approach and Mr. Ruscha's deadpan perspective, however, Mr. Fitts's pictures have elegiac feelings and metaphorical overtones.

Swimming pools are signs of spiritual optimism, economic prosperity and the hedonistic good life, so the image of a pool dried up and cracked or half full of dirty water becomes a symbol of disappointed hopes and dreams. In many of Mr. Fitts's pictures, which are often shot near sundown under warmly glowing skies, the abandonment extends to decrepit hotel buildings, and that archetype of spiritual desolation, the wasteland, comes to mind.

A sign on the wall by a pool that was filled in with grassy sod says, ''No lifeguard on duty,'' which is funny at first, and then starts to sound like an ominous judgment about modern American life. KEN JOHNSON

CLOSE WINDOW