25
Jul
13

Exhibition: ‘Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity’ at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City

Exhibition dates: 9th May – 28th July 2013

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I admit that I went through a stage of disliking Herb Ritts photographs – no longer!
In contemplation, his formal aestheticism obtains a serene beauty – spare, refined, erotic.

Marcus

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Fred with Tires became the archetypal photograph of the male body in the 1980s and made the world-wide reputation of its commercial photographer, Herb Ritts. Gay men flocked to buy it, myself included. I was drawn by the powerful, perfectly sculpted body, the butchness of his job, the dirty trousers, the boots and the body placed within a social context. At the time I realised that the image of this man was a constructed fantasy, ie. not the ‘real’ thing, and this feeling of having been deceived has grown ever since. His hair is teased up and beautifully styled, the grease is applied to his body just so, his body twisted to just the right degree to accentuate the muscles of the stomach and around the pelvis. You can just imagine the stylist standing off camera ready to readjust the hair if necessary, the assistants with their reflectors playing more light onto the body. This/he is the seduction of a marketable homoeroticsm, the selling of an image as sex, almost camp in its overt appeal to gay archetypal stereotypes.

Herb Ritts, whether in his commercial work or in his personal images such as those of the gay bodybuilders Bob Paris and Rod Jackson, has helped increase the acceptance of the openly homoerotic photograph in a wider sphere but this has been possible only with an increased acceptance of homosexual visibility within the general population. 
Openly gay bodies such as that of Australian rugby league star Ian Roberts or American diver Greg Luganis can become heroes and role models to young gay men coming out of the closet for the first time, visible evidence that gay men are everywhere in every walk of life. This is fantastic because young gay men do need gay role models to look up to but the bodies they possess only conform to the one type, that of the muscular mesomorph and this reinforces the ideal of a traditional masculinity. Yes, the guy in the shower next to you might be a poofter, might be queer for heavens sake, but my God what a body he’s got!”

Marcus Bunyan. Historical Pressings,” from Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (Phd thesis) 2001

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Many thankx to Oklahoma City Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Fred with Tires - Bodyshop Series, Hollywood' 1984

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Fred with Tires – Bodyshop Series, Hollywood
1984
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Djimon with Octopus, Hollywood' 1989

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Djimon with Octopus, Hollywood
1989
Gelatin silver print
44.5 x 38.7 cm (17 1/2 x 15 1/4 in.)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Tony with shadow, Los Angeles' 1988

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Tony with shadow, Los Angeles
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Point Dume' 1987

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Point Dume
1987
Gelatin silver print
31.9 x 25.4 cm (12 9/16 x 10 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb-Ritts-Versace-Dress,-Back-View,-El-Mirage,-1990-WEB

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage
1990
Gelatin silver print
137.2 x 109.2 cm (54 x 43 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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The American photographer Herb Ritts produced a body of work in the 1980s and 1990s that seems to embody the outdoor lifestyle and glamour of the southern California beautiful set. This photograph, taken at El Mirage Dry Lake in California, appeared on the cover of Italian designer Gianni Versace’s September 1990 catalogue and incorporates a formalism and contemporary sensuality characteristic of Ritts’s aesthetic. Ritts’s photograph appeals through its boldly contrasting lights and darks.

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Versace Veiled Dress, El Mirage' 1990

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Versace Veiled Dress, El Mirage
1990
55.8 x 44.6 cm (21 15/16 x 17 9/16 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Now and Zen 1, El Mirage' 1999

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Now and Zen 1, El Mirage
1999
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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“Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity will be on view at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art from May 9 through July 28, 2013. Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with the support of the Herb Ritts Foundation and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, this exhibition will feature over eighty large-scale black-and-white photographs by acclaimed photographer, Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002). Ranging in scale from intimate portraits to ten foot murals, the exhibition will highlight the diversity of the artist’s work. Known for his innovative approach to fashion, intimate portraiture of celebrities, and the classical treatment of the nude, Ritts emerged in the 1980s to become one of the most successful celebrity and fashion photographers of the late twentieth century and an important part of the history of American photography.

Herb Ritts grew up in Los Angeles and maintained his studio in Hollywood. A self-taught photographer, Ritts first began taking photographs in the late 1970s after studying economics at Bard College. The intimate publicity images that he made of Richard Gere were among his first serious portraits and helped to launch his career. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Ritts built his reputation as a leading celebrity portraitist and fashion photographer, contributing regularly to publications such as GQMademoiselleVogue, andVanity Fair. From 1988, he also made music videos and commercials for which he won numerous awards.

The photographs included in the exhibition represent some of Herb Ritts’s most iconic works which incorporate the natural light of the California sun while emphasizing shapes, unusual juxtapositions, and the beauty of the human form. Ritts celebrates nature and the human body in evoking the tactile appeal of surface textures of grains of sand, veiled fabric, drying mud, and cascading water seen in Waterfall 4 (1988), Backflip (1987), and Woman in Sea (1988). Fashion photographs on view include such asVersace Veiled Dress, El Mirage (1990), Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood (1989), and Djimon with Octopus (1989). Examples of celebrity portraiture include Richard Gere, Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Depp, Bruce Springsteen, Drew Barrymore, David Bowie, Matthew McConaughey, and Mick Jagger. Also included in the exhibition are poetic and eternal images in Ritts’s Africa series, taken in 1993 when he traveled to East Africa, and examples from the rare Corps et Ames (1999) series of photographs, portraying dancers in motion.

This exhibition – drawn from the photography collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Herb Ritts Foundation – present Herb Ritts’ style and the range of his career.”

Press release from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles' 1987

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles
1987
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles' 1989

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles
1989
Platinum print
46.4 x 38.4 cm (18 1/4 x 15 1/8 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Backflip, Paradise Cove' 1987

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Backflip, Paradise Cove
1987
Gelatin silver print
90 x 70 in. (228.6 x 177.8 cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Corp et Âmes - 14, Los Angeles' 1999

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Corp et Âmes – 14, Los Angeles
1999
Gelatin silver print
14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 27.9 cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Chrissy Turlington, Versace 3, Milan' 1991

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Chrissy Turlington, Versace 3, Milan
1991
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Madonna (True Blue Profile), Hollywood' 1986

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Madonna (True Blue Profile), Hollywood
1986
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Matthew McConaughey, Palmdale' 1996

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Matthew McConaughey, Palmdale
1996
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Loriki with Spear, Africa' 1993

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Loriki with Spear, Africa
1993
Gelatin silver print
45 x 41 in. (114.3 x 104.1 cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Tony Ward' 1986

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Tony Ward
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Waterfall IV, Hollywood' 1988

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Waterfall IV, Hollywood
1988
Platinum print
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.64 cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Woman in Sea, Hawaii' 1988

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Woman in Sea, Hawaii
1988
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Bill T. Jones VI, Los Angeles' 1995

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Bill T. Jones VI, Los Angeles
1995
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Man with Chain, Los Angeles' 1985

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Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Man with Chain, Los Angeles
1985
Gelatin silver print
47.8 x 38.4 cm (18 13/16 x 15 1/8 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

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Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday: 10 am. – 5 pm.
Thursday: 10 am. – 9 pm.
Sunday: noon – 5 pm.
Closed: Monday and Major Holidays

Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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