Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood

15
Oct
15

Text / exhibition: ‘David Bowie is’ at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 16th July – 1st November 2015

Melbourne Winter Masterpieces

 

 

This text was written for a special LGBTQI themed edition of the peer reviewed journal Fashion, Style and Popular Culture. At short notice, the co-editor asked me to write, and I quote, “a queer focussed review of the Bowie exhibition at ACMI.” When I delivered the piece below, it was rejected as not being academic enough. Apparently they wanted a deconstruction of the exhibition, its layout, construction, themes, lighting, and good and bad points. No mention of LGBTQI issues mind you. What the kind of review they wanted has to do with a LGBTQI themed issue, I have absolutely no idea. If they had known anything about my writing, they would have known they would not get academic speak, but something a little more interesting. Their loss, our gain.

The text focuses on Bowie’s impact on me at the time, as a gay man. Bowie is tight. Singing my all time favourite track of his, Young Americans, Bowie is a vocalist like no other. What a voice. Team that with charisma, soul, style, and all the moves … hands on hips, guitar slung backwards, padded shoulders to die for, cheekbones that you could cut with a knife and a presence that is just luminous. No wonder I loved him as an adolescent, he was my Hero. As someone commented on the YouTube live performance of the song (below), “ain’t there 1 goddam song that can make me breakdown + cry*”

This is a flawed but mesmerising exhibition. Allow three to fours hours at least. If you are a Bowie fan it’s a 100% must see; and if you are an aficionado of contemporary culture, you will be amazed at the sources Bowie draws from to create his art, his personas. It did no harm, either, that Bowie had access to some of the most creative designers in the world for his costumes and sets, but he was the inventive force. What a man, what an artist, not just a man who feel to earth, but a man who changed the world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to ACMI for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Download the text Reflections on David: In a galaxy all of his own (kb pdf)

 

 

Bowie performing on Dick Cavett Show (4 of December 1974)

 

 

Reflections on David: In a galaxy all of his own

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The year was 1975. In London, six years after that seminal event of early gay liberation, the Stonewall Riots, six years after the landing on the moon, and six years after the release of David Bowie’s single, Space Oddity, I came out as a gay man age 17. At the time I felt a bit of a space oddity myself, troubled by my hidden identity and the double life I was leading. My first act of rebellion was to walk into a newsagent at Notting Hill Gate underground station, pick up a copy of Gay Times, fling the money at the store attendant and run from the place as red as a beetroot. I was so embarrassed.

Things quickly changed. I had been listening to Bowie’s music since my early days in boarding school – The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane – and now, after outing myself, I rocked up to the Royal College of Music with silver hair, wearing the most outrageous satin pink and white bomber jacket, with rings on every finger. I walked down St. Albans high street on a Saturday morning through the market in fake white fur coat and eye shadow. It’s only now, forty years later, that I realise I was channelling my inner Bowie.

This was the era of Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in England, where we had to gather in people’s lounge rooms to meet other gay men, or once a month at a disco in country Hertfordshire. Or we went to the Pan Club in Luton where drag queens peered imperiously down at us through a grill before they allowed us through the door. The best thing was going to Scandals or Adams night clubs in London, where we danced on illuminated glass dance floors (like in Saturday Night Fever) and wore our army uniforms. We could be whoever we wanted to be. And this was all influenced by the multiple persona of Bowie.

Like an intelligent bower bird, Bowie constructed his different personae through bricolage, building them from cultural signifiers such as German Expressionism, Marlene Dietrich, Sonia Delaunay, Metropolis, Hollywood, Japanese film, JG Ballard and Clockwork Orange, to name just a few. My gay friends and I did much the same. Like Bowie, for us it wasn’t so much about sexuality but about androgyny and the public play of gender (although the two are obviously interlinked). We adored David, a self-educated lad from a poor working class family, initially a Mod, who created his own universe of creatures and characters. Glam yes, but so much more than just putting on a costume like Kiss, David lived and breathed his worlds and we, his fans, believed in him. Not so much gender bender as cultural gender blender.

Critical to this time in my life was the period that followed Ziggy: Young Americans and the Thin White Duke. I got heavily into soul music, going to a basement nightclub behind Bang on Tottenham Court Road, where they played reggae, Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra… and David Bowie. I used to pretend to be one of the back up singers on the song Young Americans: “Young American, young American, she wants the young American.” Bowie is tight. Singing my all time favourite track of his, Young Americans, Bowie is a vocalist like no other. What a voice. Team that with charisma, soul, style, and all the moves … hands on hips, guitar slung backwards, padded shoulders to die for, cheekbones that you could cut with a knife and a presence that is just luminous. No wonder I loved him as an adolescent, he was my Hero. As someone commented on the YouTube live performance of the song, “ain’t there 1 goddam song that can make me breakdown + cry*”. From talking to other gay men, I know that the Young Americans album was also critical for them – all cinched waist, high cheekbones, eye shadow, padded shoulders, flaming hair and soul music.

Australian disc jockey Stephen Allkins observed the same phenomena in Sydney. In a recent interview with me he commented, “My first introduction to the world of David Bowie was in 1975 when I was a 14 year old gay boy hanging out with my gay cousin, coming out unknowingly together. Young Americans was so damn funky and classy and totally different to anything that was happening in the white music world at the time. I couldn’t quite get my head around the way Bowie had gone from Ziggy and Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke and funk in one swoop, but I loved it. It’s hard to put into words how, as everyone else was glamming up, Bowie starting wearing suits and playing with the hottest funk band on the planet. No one else at that time moved or evolved with such speed and ease and he made me believe every look and note. He didn’t copy or just follow a trend to get noticed, he created and influenced several generations of people with his music and visual ideas. I say ideas because what he created visually was more than mere fashion, it became art. Looking back on all he’s done now, all that he did was art – musically, visually and sensually.”

Which leads me on to David Bowie is, an exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne. This is a fascinating but flawed exploration of the life of one of the world’s great artists. To see his early life, influences, and upbringing, and to have access to his personal archives – especially the wonderful sketches and storyboards showing his creative process – is invaluable. One of the strongest elements of the performance is how the exhibition links his art to the many cultural signifiers he used to construct it: from collage to construction. The costumes are magnificent including the additional Australian content, like the Pierrot costume from Ashes to Ashes. To see artefacts such as the original handwritten stanzas of Ziggy Stardust and Fame is as close as many of us will get to the source of greatness.

Much less successful was the thematic layout of the exhibition. Sections on film stars, 1930s, and Berlin cabaret (to name but a few), in non-chronological order, made it difficult to comprehend the development of each character and their place in the flow of time and space. While this assemblage of ideas might mimic how Bowie actually constructed his characters, quickly moving from one to another, and then reviving the same character many years later (for example, Space Oddity‘s Major Tom of 1969 and then creating a sequel in Ashes to Ashes in 1980), the imitative representation, or mimesis, of Bowie’s process in the layout of the exhibition simply did not work. Knowing how important Young Americans was to my own gay history, I searched for about 15 minutes with a guide from the exhibition looking for references to Young Americans and the influence of soul music on Bowie. We eventually found just two Thin White Duke suits tucked away right at the end of the show. In the bowels of the dark, subterranean bunker that is ACMI too many artefacts were crammed into too small a location. The artefacts, the ideas and the art have little room to breathe.

Having said that, this is still a mesmerising exhibition. Allow three to fours hours at least. If you are a Bowie fan it’s a 100% must see; and if you are an aficionado of contemporary culture, you will be amazed at the sources Bowie draws from to create his art, his personas. It did no harm, either, that Bowie had access to some of the most creative designers in the world for his costumes and sets, but he was the inventive force. What a man, what an artist, not just a man who feel to earth, but a man who changed the world. He was REAL, his personae were REAL, his art was REAL. He was an astronaut of inner space and when he looked down the barrel of the lens he spoke to young rebels in an authentic voice. He was our hero and no one else’s. As the singer Sylvester would later say: “You make me feel mighty real.” Chimerical, pansexual David, we love you!

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
October 2015

Word count: 1,390

 

Roy Ainsworth. 'David Bowie in The Kon-rads' 1963

 

Roy Ainsworth
Publicity photograph for The Kon-rads
1963
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

David or ‘Davie’ Jones, as he was then known, became heavily involved in London’s burgeoning music scene at a young age. Before leaving school at the age of 16, he had already joined the band The Kon-rads, playing saxophone and singing vocals. Demonstrating the experimental energy that has driven his solo career, Bowie spent the 1960s trying out different musical, artistic and sartorial styles and performing with several different bands. In 1965 he changed his stage name to David Bowie. The exhibition features several objects from Bowie’s early career including sketches of set, costume and poster designs created for his first bands and footage of early performances.

 

Freddie Burretti (designer) 'Quilted two‐piece suit' 1972

 

Freddie Burretti (designer)
Quilted two‐piece suit
1972
Designed by Freddie Burretti for the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ tour
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

On 6 July 1972 David Bowie performed Starman, the first single from his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, on BBC One’s Top of the Pops. This pivotal performance was crucial in making Bowie a music star and is acclaimed as a watershed moment which changed rock music and youth culture forever. Appearing on national television with flame-orange hair, make-up, multi-coloured clothing and red patent boots, Ziggy’s otherworldly look and sexual ambiguity created a seismic shift in pop culture. The exhibition features the original suit and boots created by Freddie Burretti and designed in collaboration with Bowie, who took inspiration from the costumes worn by the ‘droogs’ street gang in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (1971).

 

Ziggy Stardust | David Bowie

 

Kansai Yamamoto. 'Striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour' 1973

 

Kansai Yamamoto (designer)
Masayoshi Sukita (photographer)
Striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour
1973
© Sukita / The David Bowie Archive

 

 

Bowie first saw the work of Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto at the exhibition Kansai in London in 1971. He could not afford the original designs so copied the look instead, recruiting friends such as Natasha Korniloff and Freddie Burretti to create cheaper versions of Yamamoto’s signature bodysuits and platform boots. After the success of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie approached Yamamoto and commissioned a set of even more flamboyant stage costumes for the Aladdin Sane tour in 1973. These outfits, inspired by the style of Japanese samurai and kabuki actors, are outrageous, sculptural and eye-catching. The exhibition features several Kansai Yamamoto costumes including the black and white striped bodysuit and a white cloak with Japanese kanji lettering spelling out ‘David Bowie’. A flamboyant suit from Yamamoto’s 1971 exhibition which he gifted to the V&A at the time is also on display.

 

'Red platform boots for the 1973 'Aladdin Sane' tour' 1973

 

Red platform boots for the 1973 ‘Aladdin Sane’ tour
1973
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Kansai Yamamoto (designer) 'Metallic bodysuit' 1973

 

Kansai Yamamoto (designer)
Metallic bodysuit
1973
Designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the ‘Aladdin Sane’ tour
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Brian Duffy. 'Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane' 1973

 

Brian Duffy
Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane
1973
© Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

 

 

“The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) today launched the critically acclaimed exhibition celebrating one of the most influential artists in music, film and video, fashion and performance. David Bowie is comes to ACMI from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) for a strictly limited season from 16 July 2015 as part of the Victorian Government’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.

Seen by over 1 million people worldwide at sell-out shows in London, Chicago, Sao Paolo, Paris, and Berlin, David Bowie is was conceived by the prestigious V&A in London, where it premiered in March 2013 before quickly becoming V&A’s fastest selling show. This once-in-a-lifetime experience, now in its only Australasian season, is set to take Melbourne by storm.

Drawing upon unprecedented access to objects from the David Bowie Archive, the exhibition charts the extraordinary career of the boy from London who became an iconic artist and cultural innovator. David Bowie is features over 50 legendary costumes, original stage set designs, handwritten lyric sheets, album artwork, rare film, video and photographs, and interviews with key collaborators. Special displays explore the artistic chameleon’s continuing influences as a musician, stage performer, writer and actor.

ACMI Director and CEO, Katrina Sedgwick, says the groundbreaking exhibition is testament to Bowie’s profound and everlasting impact as a true pioneer in music, fashion and culture. “We are thrilled to be hosting the Australian incarnation of David Bowie is… It is an exhibition that not only illuminates the extraordinary breadth of Bowie’s creative genius and his enormous impact over the decades – but it is also a beautifully curated and staged experience that will delight the many thousands of people who will see it in the coming weeks and months.”

The V&A’s curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, from the Museum’s Department of Theatre and Performance, selected more than 300 objects and films for the show. Of the exhibition they said; “We are absolutely delighted to see David Bowie is travel to ACMI. Bowie himself has a long-standing relationship with Australia, including creating the music videos for Let’s Dance and China Girl there. We hope that the exhibition meets the expectations of his extensive Australian fan base.”

The exhibition offers insight into Bowie’s early years and his first steps musical greatness. The creative aspiration of the young David Robert Jones are showcased by early photographs and Bowie’s sketches for stage sets and costumes created for his bands The Kon-rads and The Delta Lemons in the 1960s. Bowie’s first major hit Space Oddity (1969) and the introduction of the fictional character Major Tom inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey granted him critical and commercial success as an established solo artist. His cinematic influences abound with his elaborate storyboards and set design for the Diamond Dogs tour (1974) inspired by Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927).

Excerpts and props from Bowie’s on-screen performance in films including The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Labyrinth (1986), Basquiat (1996) and The Prestige (2006) show how Bowie has continually explored different notions of character and drawn together the numerous cultural influences that feed into his work. On display is the original multi-coloured suit worn for the pivotal performance of Starman on Top of the Pops in July 1972. An interactive audio-visual display presents some of Bowie’s most ambitious music videos including DJ (1979) and The Hearts Filthy Lesson (1995). Immersive, large-scale projections show recently uncovered footage of Bowie performing Jean Genie on Top of the Pops in 1973 and excerpts from D.A. Pennebaker’s film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture (1973).

Bowie’s collaborations with artists and designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film are explored throughout the exhibition. On display are more than 50 stage costumes including Ziggy Stardust bodysuits (1972) designed by Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto’s flamboyant creations for the Aladdin Sane tour (1973), and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover (1997). An area has been dedicated to the monochrome theatricality of Bowie’s Berlin period and the creation of the Thin White Duke persona identified with the Station to Station album and tour (1976). It also investigates the series of experimental records he produced between 1977 and 1979 whilst living in Germany, known as the Berlin Trilogy.

More personal items such as never-before-seen storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics are also featured in the exhibition as well as some of Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores and diary entries, revealing the evolution of his creative ideas. ACMI is the exclusive Australasian venue for a strictly limited season of David Bowie is. The ACMI season includes a curated program of talks and special events, late night programs, film screenings and live performances.”

Press release from ACMI

 

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Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

 

Ziggy Stardust jumpsuit designed by Freddie Burretti (1972)

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

 

Alexander McQueen Union Jack coat designed in collaboration with David Bowie for the Earthling album cover

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

 

David Bowie and Freddie Burretti (designer)
Bodysuit with graphic print (replica)
‘Ziggy Stardust’ tour and album cover
1972

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

 

Kansai Yamamoto striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour (1973)

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne
Photographer: Mark Gambino

 

 

Exhibition overview

The exhibition offers insight into Bowie’s early years and his first steps towards musical success. Tracing the creative aspirations of the young David Robert Jones (born 1947 in Brixton, London), it shows how he was inspired by innovations in art, theatre, music, technology and youth culture in Britain during the aftermath of the Second World War. Pursuing a professional career in music and acting, he officially adopted the stage name ‘David Bowie’ in 1965 and went through a series of self-styled changes from Mod to mime artist and folk singer to R&B musician in anticipation of the shifting nature of his future career. On display are early photographs and Bowie’s sketches for stage sets and costumes created for his bands The Kon-rads and The Delta Lemons in the 1960s.

This opening section concludes with a focus on Bowie’s first major hit Space Oddity (1969) and the introduction of the fictional character Major Tom, who would be revisited by Bowie in both Ashes to Ashes (1980) and Hallo Spaceboy (1995). Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the single was released to coincide with the first moon landing and was Bowie’s breakthrough moment, granting him critical and commercial success as an established solo artist.

The exhibition moves on to examine Bowie’s creative processes from song writing, recording and producing to his collaborations on costume designs, stage sets and album artwork. Showing how Bowie works within both established art forms and new artistic movements, this section reveals the scope of his inspirations and cultural references from Surrealism, Brechtian theatre and avant-garde mime to West End musicals, German Expressionism and Japanese Kabuki performance. This section traces the influence of these movements on Bowie’s own work, including the evolution of the lavishly produced Diamond Dogs tour (1974), the design of which was inspired by Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927) and George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). The tour combined exuberant choreography and a colossal set design, taking the combination of rock music and theatre to new heights. On display are previously unseen storyboards for the proposed musical that Bowie would eventually transform into the Diamond Dogs album and touring show.

In addition, this section chronicles Bowie’s innovative approach to creating albums and touring shows around fictionalised stage personas and narratives. 1972 marked the birth of his most famous creation; Ziggy Stardust, a human manifestation of an alien being. Ziggy’s daringly androgynous and otherworldly appearance has had a powerful and continuous influence on pop culture, signaling a challenge of social conventions and inspiring people to shape their own identities. On display is the original multi-coloured suit worn for the pivotal performance of Starman on Top of the Pops in July 1972, as well as outfits designed for stage characters Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke. Costumes from The 1980 Floor Show (1973), album cover sleeves for The Man Who Sold the World (1970) and Hunky Dory (1971), alongside fan material, highlight Bowie’s fluid stylistic transformations and his impact on social mobility and gay liberation.

Excerpts from Bowie’s on-screen performances in films including The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Labyrinth (1986), Basquiat (1996) and The Prestige (2006) show how Bowie has continually explored different notions of character and drawn together the numerous cultural influences that feed into his work. Footage and photography of recording sessions for Outside (1995) and ‘Hours…’ (1999) as well as handwritten lyrics and word collages inspired by William Burroughs’ ‘cut up’ method of writing that have never previously been publicly displayed, reveal Bowie’s working processes from writing to recording.

This expansive retrospective also celebrates David Bowie as a pioneering performer concentrating on key performances throughout his career. An interactive audio-visual display presents some of Bowie’s most ambitious music videos including DJ (1979) and The Hearts Filthy Lesson (1995). Immersive, large-scale projections show recently uncovered footage of Bowie performing Jean Genie on Top of the Pops in 1973 and excerpts from D.A. Pennebaker’s film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture (1973).

An area has been dedicated to the monochrome theatricality of Bowie’s Berlin period and the creation of the stylish Thin White Duke persona identified with the Station to Station album and tour (1976). It also investigates the series of experimental and pioneering records he produced between 1977 and 1979 whilst living in Germany, known as the Berlin Trilogy. Finally, David Bowie is features a display of striking performance and fashion photography taken by photographers including Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts and John Rowlands. These professional portraits are juxtaposed with a collage of visual projections illustrating Bowie’s immense creative influence and ubiquitous presence in music, fashion and contemporary visual and virtual culture.

 

Freddie Burretti (designer) 'Ice-blue suit' 1972

 

Freddie Burretti (designer)
Ice-blue suit
1972
Designed for the ‘Life on Mars?’ video
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Music video by David Bowie performing Life On Mars? Taken from the album Heroes

 

Kansai Yamamoto (designer) 'Asymmetric knitted bodysuit' 1973

 

Kansai Yamamoto (designer)
Asymmetric knitted bodysuit
1973
Designed for the ‘Aladdin Sane’ tour
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Masayoshi Sukita. 'David Bowie' 1973

 

Masayoshi Sukita
David Bowie
1973
© Sukita / The David Bowie Archive

 

Photograph by Terry O'Neill with colour by David Bowie. 'David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974' 1974

 

Photograph by Terry O’Neill with colour by David Bowie
David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974
1974
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Terry O'Neill. 'Promotional photograph of David Bowie for 'Diamond Dogs'' 1974

 

Terry O’Neill
Promotional photograph of David Bowie for ‘Diamond Dogs’
1974
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

David Bowie – BBC Live – Diamond Dogs & John, I’m Only Dancing (January 1975)

 

David Bowie. 'Photo-collage by David Bowie of manipulated film stills from The Man Who Fell to Earth' 1975-6

 

David Bowie
Photo-collage by David Bowie of manipulated film stills from The Man Who Fell to Earth
1975-6
Film stills by David James
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive, Film stills
© STUDIOCANAL Films Ltd., Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

'Cut up lyrics for 'Blackout' from "Heroes"' 1977

 

Cut up lyrics for ‘Blackout’ from “Heroes”
1977
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

'Print after a self‐portrait by David Bowie' 1978

 

Print after a self‐portrait by David Bowie
1978
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Brian Duffy. 'David Bowie during the filming of the 'Ashes to Ashes' video' 1980

 

Brian Duffy
David Bowie during the filming of the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video
1980
© Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

 

'Original storyboards by David Bowie for the 'Ashes to Ashes' video' 1980

 

Original storyboards by David Bowie for the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video
1980
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

David Bowie – Ashes To Ashes

 

 

Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia

Opening hours:
Open daily, 10am – 5pm (Closed Christmas Day)

ACMI website

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15
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Philip-Lorca diCorcia: Photographs 1975–2012’ at the De Pont museum of contemporary art, Tilburg

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2013 – 19th January 2014

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This is (our) reality.

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Many thankx to the De Pont museum of contemporary art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF FEMALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Norfolk' 1979

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Norfolk
1979
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
16 x 20 inches (40.6 x 50.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Marilyn; 28 years old; Las Vegas, Nevada; $30' 1990-92

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Marilyn; 28 years old; Las Vegas, Nevada; $30
1990-92
© Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Ike Cole, 38 years old, Los Angeles, California, $25' 1990-92

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Ike Cole, 38 years old, Los Angeles, California, $25
1990-92
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
30 x 40 inch (111.8 x 167.6 cm)
© Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York and Sprüth Magers, London/Berlin

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $ 20' 1990-92

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $ 20
1990-92
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm)
Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'New York' 1993

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
New York
1993
Ektacolor print
30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm)
Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Wellfleet' 1993

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Wellfleet
1993
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
41.3 x 51.8 cm
© Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Hong Kong' 1996

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Hong Kong
1996
Ektacolor print
25 x 37 1/2 inches (63.50 x 95.25 cm)
Courtesy the artist, and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'New York City' 1996

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
New York City
1996
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
16 1/4 x 20 3/8 inches (41.3 x 51.8 cm)
© Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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“Starting October 5, 2013 De Pont museum of contemporary art is hosting the first European survey of the oeuvre of US photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Born in 1951, diCorcia is one of the most important and influential contemporary photographers. His images oscillate between everyday elements and arrangements that are staged down to the smallest detail. In his works, seemingly realistic images that are taken with an ostensibly documentary eye are undermined by their highly elaborate orchestration. This exhibition is organized in collaboration with Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt.

One of the primary issues that diCorcia addresses is the question of whether it is possible to depict reality, and this is what links his photographs, most of which he creates as series. For Hustlers (1990-1992), for example, he took pictures of male prostitutes in meticulously staged settings, while in what is probably his most famous series, Heads (2000-2001), he captured an instant in the everyday lives of unsuspecting passers­‐by. Alongside the series Streetwork (1993-1999), Lucky 13 (2004) and A Storybook Life (1975-1999), the exhibition at the Schirn, which was organized in close collaboration with the artist, will also present works from his new and ongoing East of Eden (2008-) project for the first time.

In addition, the work Thousand (2007) will also be on show in Tilburg. This installation consisting of 1,000 Polaroid’s, which are considered one complete work, offers a distinctive vantage point into the artist’s sensibility and visual preoccupations. Seen alongside Polaroid’s from some of diCorcia’s most recognized bodies of work and distinctive series  – Hustlers, Streetwork, Heads, Lucky Thirteen – are intimate scenes with friends, family members, and lovers; self portraits; double-exposures; test shots from commercial and fashion shoots; the ordinary places of everyday life, such as airport lounges, street corners, bedrooms; and still life portraits of common objects, including clocks and lamps.

For the Hustlers series (1990-1992), diCorcia shot photographs of male prostitutes along Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. The artist carefully staged the protagonists’ positions as well as the setting and the accompanying lighting. The titles of the respective photographs make reference to the name, age, and birthplace of the men as well as the amount of money diCorcia paid them for posing and which they typically receive for their sexual services. Staged in Tinseltown, the Hollywood district of Los Angeles, the hustlers become the touching performers of their own lost dreams.

The streets of New York, Tokyo, Paris, London, Mexico City, or Los Angeles are the setting for diCorcia’s Streetwork series. Produced between 1993 and 1999, passers-by walk into the artist’s photo trap on their way home, to work, to the gym, or to the grocery store, unsuspectingly passing through diCorcia’s arranged photoflash system. The photographer releases the shutter at a certain moment, “freezing” it in time. DiCorcia has time stand still in the hustle and bustle of big-city life and shifts individuals and groups of people into the center of events. In much the same way as in Hustlers, what counts here is not the documentary character of the work; instead, diCorcia poses the question: What is reality?

The artist heightens this focus on the individual in his subsequent series, Heads (2000-2001), for which he selected seventeen heads out of a total of some three thousand photographs. The viewer’s gaze is directed toward the face of the passer-by, who is moved into the center of the image by means of the lighting and the pictorial detail. The rest remains in shadowy darkness. The individuals – a young woman, a tourist, a man wearing a suit and tie – seem strangely isolated, almost lonely, their gazes otherworldly. DiCorcia turns the inside outward and for a brief moment elevates the individual above the crowd. The artist produces a profound intimacy.

With Streetwork and Heads, diCorcia treads a very individual path of street photography, which in America looks back at a long tradition established by artists such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, or Diane Arbus. He reinvents the seemingly chance moment and transfers it into the present.

The painterly quality of diCorcia’s photographs, which is produced by means of dramatic lighting, becomes particularly evident in the series Lucky 13 (2004). The artist captures the athletic, naked bodies of pole dancers in the midst of a falling motion. The women achieve a sculptural plasticity by means of the strong lighting and the almost black background, and seem to have been chiselled in stone. Although the title of the series, an American colloquialism used to ward off a losing streak, makes reference to theseamy milieu of strip joints, the artist is not seeking to create a milieu study or celebrate voyeurism. Instead, the performers become metaphors for impermanence, luck, or the moment they begin to fall, suggesting the notion of “fallen angels.”

DiCorcia also includes a religious element in his most recent works, the series East of Eden, a work in progress that is being published for the first time in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition. Besides the biblical inspiration, which the title underscores, a literary connection can furthermore be made to the eponymous novel by John Steinbeck, which relates the story of Cain and Abel in the form of an American family saga set between the period of the Civil War and World War I. In his choice of motifs, diCorcia makes use of iconographic visual worlds: an apple tree in all its tantalizing glory, a blind married couple sitting at the dining table, a landscape photograph that leads us into endless expanses.

DiCorcia deals intensely with the motif of the figure in his oeuvre. His compact compositions are marked by a non-dialogue between people and their environment or between individual protagonists. The motifs captured in compositional variations in most of the series feature painterly qualities. Subtly arranged and falling back on a complex orchestration of the lighting, the visual worlds created by the American manifest social realities in an almost poetic way. The emotionally and narratively charged works are complex nexuses of iconographic allusions to and depictions of contemporary American society.”

Press release from the De Pont website

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Head #10' 2001

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Head #10
2001
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
48 x 60 inches (121.9 x 152.4 cm)
Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Head #11' 2001

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Head #11
2001
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
48 x 60 inches (121.9 x 152.4 cm)
Collection De Pont museum of contemporary art, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Head #23' 2001

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Head #23
2001
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
48 x 60 inches (121.9 x 152.4 cm)
© Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Lola' 2004

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Lola
2004
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
64 1/2 x 44 1/2 inches (163.8 x 113 cm)
Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Juliet Ms. Muse' 2004

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Juliet Ms. Muse
2004
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
64 1/2 x 44 1/2 inches (163.8 x 113 cm)
Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'The Hamptons' 2008

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
The Hamptons
2008
Inkjet print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4 cm)
Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Sylmar, California' 2008

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Sylmar, California
2008
Inkjet print
56 x71 inches (142.2 x 180.3 cm)
Collection De Pont museum of contemporary art, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

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De Pont museum of contemporary art
Wilhelminapark 1
5041 EA Tilburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday through Sunday 11 am – 5 pm

De Pont museum of contemporary art website

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25
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Lorna Simpson’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 28th May – 1st September 2013

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Fascinating practice!

Identity, memory, gender, representation, the body, the subject, felt, text, images, video, gesture, reenactment, concept and performance, all woven together seamlessly like a good wig made of human hair…

Marcus

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Many thankx to Jeu de Paume 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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Lorna Simpson. 'Five Day Forecast [Prévisions à cinq jours]' 1988

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Lorna Simpson
Five Day Forecast [Prévisions à cinq jours]
1988
5 gelatin silver prints in a frame, 15 plates engraved plastic
24 ½ x 97 in (62.2 x 246.4 cm) overall
Lillian and Billy Mauer Collection
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Stereo Styles [Styles stéréo]' 1988

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Lorna Simpson
Stereo Styles [Styles stéréo]
1988
10 dye-diffusion black-and-white Polaroid prints, 10 engraved plastic plaques
57 ¾ x 125 ¼ x 1 3/8 in (146.7 x 318.1 x 3.5 cm) overall
Collection of Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Wigs II' 1994-2006

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Lorna Simpson
Wigs II
1994-2006
Serigraph on 71 felt panels (images and text)
98 x 265 in (248.9 x 673.1 cm) overall
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson surprised her audiences in 1994 when she began to print her photographs on felt, inspired by its materiality after seeing an exhibition of the sculpture of Joseph Beuys in Paris “where the piano and walls were covered for a beautiful installation.” Simpson questioned whether the medium might be appropriate in a far different way for her work given the perspective afforded her by the passage of time. With the felt pieces, Simpson turned away from photography’s traditional paper support, magnified the already larger-than-life-size of the images within her large photo-text pieces to extremely large-scale multi-part works, and, most critically, absented the figure, in particular, the black woman in a white shift facing away from the camera for which she had received critical acclaim.

Ever-present, nevertheless, were her thematic concerns. The first felts offered surrogates for the body in  a taxonomy of her own photographs of Wigs, with voicings “in and around gender,” and expanded upon the investigation of the role of coiffure in the construction of identity in Simpson’s photo-texts (such as Stereo Styles, Gallery 1). In the mid-1990s, such felts were succeeded by a series of photographs of interior and exterior scenes that were accompanied by long text passages printed on separate small felts. In these works the figure was replaced, as Okwui Enwezor wrote, “by the rumor of the body.”

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Lorna Simpson. 'Please remind me of who I am' (detail) 2009

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Lorna Simpson
Please remind me of who I am (detail)
2009
50 found photo booth portraits, 50 ink drawings on paper, 100 bronze elements
Overall installation dimensions variable
Collection of Isabelle and Charles Berkovic
© Lorna Simpson

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For each multi-part photo-booth piece, Simpson sets in bronze frames these small inexpensive shots as well as her drawings of selected details of the photographs. Self-styled and performed, these photographs were used for a variety of purposes by their now anonymous sitters, ranging from sober, formal ID photos to glamorous, often theatrically playful mementos. Encompassing photo booth shots of different sizes from the 1920s to the 1970s (a few in color), Simpson’s constellations of many images for each work offer a collective portrait of self-portraiture (Gather, 2009) and continue her ongoing explorations of identity and memory, explicitly phrased in the title of one of them: Please remind me of who I am (2009).

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Lorna Simpson. 'Waterbearer [Porteuse d'eau]' 1986

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Lorna Simpson
Waterbearer [Porteuse d’eau]
1986
Gelatin silver print, vinyl letters
59 x 80 x 2 ½ in (149.9 x 203.2 x 5.7 cm) overall
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris / Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Waterbearer shows a woman from the back, pouring water from an elegant silvery metallic pitcher in one hand and from an inexpensive plastic jug in the other, echoing art historical renderings of women at wells or in the domestic settings of Dutch still-life paintings. As if balancing the scales of justice, this figure also symbolically offers disjunctions of means and class. In the accompanying text, Simpson explicitly addresses memory and the agency of speakers: “She saw him disappear by the river, they asked her to tell what happened, only to discount her memory.”

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For her first European retrospective, the Jeu de Paume presents thirty years of Lorna Simpson’s work. For this Afro-American artist, born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1960, the synthesis between image and text is profound and intimate. If one were to consider Lorna Simpson as a writer, the textual element of her works could have an autonomous life as prose poems, very short stories or fragments of scripts. And yet, her texts are inseparable from her images; there is a dynamic between the two that is both fragile and energising, which links them unfailingly. Lorna Simpson became known in the 1980s and 90s for her photographs and films that shook up the conventions of gender, identity, culture and memory.

Throughout her work, the artist tackles the complicated representation of the black body, using different media, while her texts add a significance that always remains open to the spectator’s imagination. In her recent work, Lorna Simpson has integrated archive images, which she reinvents by positioning herself in them as subject. As the artist underlines: “The theme I turn to most often is memory. But beyond this subject, the underlying thread is my relationship to text and ideas about representation.” (Lorna Simpson)

This retrospective reveals the continuity in her conceptual and performative research. In her works linking photography and text, as well as in her video installations, she integrates – while continually shaking them up – the genres of fixed and moving images, using them to ask questions about identity, history, reality and fiction. She introduces complexity through her use of photography and film, in her exploitation of found objects, in the processes she develops to take on the challenges she sets herself and to spectators.

The exhibition gathers her large format photo-texts of the mid 1980s, which brought her to the attention of the critics (Gestures / Reenactments, Waterbearer, Stereo Styles), her work in screenprints on felt panels since the 1990s (Wigs, The Car, The Staircase, Day Time, Day Time (gold), Chandelier), a group of drawings (Gold Headed, 2013), and also her “Photo Booths,” ensembles of found photos and drawings (Gather, Please remind me of who I am…). The exhibition is also an opportunity to discover her video installations: multivalent narratives that question the way in which experience is created and perceived more or less falsely (Cloudscape, 2004, Momentum, 2010), among them, Playing Chess, a new video installation made especially for the occasion.

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About the exhibition

by Joan Simon

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In her critically acclaimed body of work spanning more than thirty years, Lorna Simpson questions identity and memory, gender and history, fact and fiction, playing eye and ear in tandem if not in synchrony to prompt consideration of how meaning is constructed. That she has often described herself as an observer and a listener informs an understanding of both her approach and her subjects. In her earliest black-and-white documentary street photographs (1978-80), Simpson isolated gestures that bespoke an intimacy between those framed in her viewfinder, recording what was less a decisive moment than one of coming into relation. Some of these photographs seem to capture crossed glances, pauses in an ongoing conversation. Others are glimpses of occasions, transitional events identifiable by a white confirmation or wedding dress, which convey a sense of palpable silence in exchanges between people just out of earshot.

When Simpson began to stage her own photographs in 1985 and to write accompanying texts, she came in closer. She allowed us to see a carefully framed black body, abstracted in gesture and in white clothing, yet also permitted us to read seemingly overheard comments that redirected and recomplicated the view. While her images captured gestures, her narratives imbued these images frozen in a never-changing present with memory, a past. The title of her first photo-text work, made in 1985, and of the exhibition of that year in which it was first exhibited was Gestures / Reenactments, and one can argue that all Simpson’s work is built on the juxtaposition of gestures and reenactments, creating meaning in the resonant gap between the two. It is a gap that invites the viewer / reader to enter, all the while requiring an active reckoning with some inalienable truths: seeing is not necessarily believing, and what we might see is altered not only by our individual experiences and assumptions but also, critically, by what we might hear.

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The exhibition

Whether for still or moving picture productions, Lorna Simpson (b. 1960) uses her camera as catalyst to question identity and gender, genres and history, race and class, fact and fiction, memory and meanings. Assumptions of photographic “truth” are challenged and qualified – indeed redirected – by the images she creates that are inseparable from the texts she writes to accompany them, by the soundings she chooses  for videos, or by her pairings of vintage photographs with newly made renderings. The Jeu de Paume presents lorna Simpson’s first large-scale exhibition in europe beginning with her earliest photo-text pieces of the 1980s through her newest video installation, Chess, 2013, which makes its debut in Paris.

Works in the exhibition show the artist drawing on traditional photo techniques such as gelatin silver prints in an intimate synthesis with speakerly texts (Gallery 1). They also show Simpson’s creation of new combines, among them serigraphs on felt with writings and images invoking film noir (Gallery 2), a video installation of three projections based on historic photographs and her own prior still photos (Gallery 3), constellations of recuperated photo-booth photos with her drawings isolating details from them as well as vintage photographs together with those re-staged by the artist (Gallery 4), and a video focusing on performance as well as time itself and its reversal (Gallery 5).

The exhibition’s parcours reveals turning points in Simpson’s oeuvre as well as thematic continuities. The earliest pieces in the show are Simpson’s performative proto-cinematic photo-texts, beginning with the 1985 Gestures/ Reeactments, a title literally evocative of the work’s visual/verbal aspect while also paradigmatically descriptive of what would be her conceptual practice for the next three decades. Simpson herself makes a rare appearance in her work in two related pieces in the show: the 2009 epic still photo work 1957-2009 (Gallery 4), for which the artist re-enacted scenes from vintage photos, and Chess, 2013, (Gallery 3), which features re-enactments of some of the same photos.

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Gallery 1 introduces the artist’s signature, indeed iconic early images of the 1980s – a black figure in white clothing, face turned away from the camera or cropped out of the frame – accompanied by precisely crafted, allusive texts that recomplicate what is seen by what is heard in these voicings. The intention to deny a view of a face, as Simpson says, “was related to the idea that the one thing that people gravitate to in photography is the face and reading the expression and what that says about the person pictured, an emotional state, who they are, what they look like, deciphering and measuring. Who is being pictured, what is actually the subject? Photographing from the back was a way to get viewers’ attention as well as to consciously withdraw what they might expect to see.”

The performative photo-text works in Gallery 1 are Gestures/Reenactments, 1985 (created as part of her thesis project for her MFA at the University of California, San Diego), Waterbearer and Twenty Questions (A Sampler) (the first works that Simpson made when she moved to New York in 1986), as well as Five Day Forecast, 1988, and Stereo Styles, 1988. Beginning with Waterbearer, all of these except Gestures/Reenactments (which features a black male) show a black female in a white shift played by artist Alva Rogers, who was often mistaken for Simpson herself.

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Gallery 2 marks important changes the artist made during the ’90s, most notably Simpson’s surprising shift to printing her photographs on felt and absenting the human figure. At first she used surrogates for the body, seen in the many and various wigs she photographed and which she accompanied with texts that continued to address ideas of identity and gender (Wigs, 1994-2006). She used photographs taken during her travels for the next series of felt works, which were interior and exterior scenes (The Car, 1995, The Rock, 1995, The Staircase, 1998) that in both imagery and texts invoked film noir. These works led almost inevitably to the start of Simpson’s film and video work in 1997. (Her earliest photo-texts will be recognized by the viewer as proto-cinematic with their multiple frames and conversational voices.)

This gallery also reveals how Simpson continues to use her felt medium and returns to her own archive of images   as well as found objects. Three related works, though no longer using text, nevertheless “comment” on each other:  a video of a performance (Momentum, 2010) inspired by an early 1970s performance at Lincoln Center generated felt works based on vintage photographs of this famous New York theater – Chandelier, 2011, Daytime, 2011, and Daytime (gold), 2011- as well as the Gold Headed (2013) drawings, based on the dancers costumed head to foot in gold. Drawings are perhaps the least known medium in Simpson’s practice, and while they reveal the fluid gestures of her hand, visitors will recognize in these gold heads turned from the viewer an echo of the position of the figures  in Gallery 1.

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Gallery 3 is devoted to Simpson’s newest video, Chess, 2013, which is based on historic photos as well as her own earlier photographic piece, 1957-2009 (Gallery 4), in which she restaged found vintage photographs. Chess and 1957-2009 mark the rare instances in which Simpson has herself appeared in her work.

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Gallery 4 presents reenactments that use quotidian photographic genres to explore constructions of identity   and that offer a collective portrait of photographic portraiture over time. All of the works in this gallery are based on found photographs Simpson purchased on eBay and each depicts anonymous subjects performing for the camera. 1957-2009 is based on photographs in a vintage album; Gather and Please remind me of who I am are constellations of bronze-framed found photo-booth images (from the 1920s to the 1970s) accompanied by Simpson’s similarly framed drawings of details from the photographs.

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Gallery 5 offers Simpson’s video installation Cloudscape, 2004, which focuses on performance itself and the soundings of a body, that of artist Terry Adkins whistling a hymn. Embodying memory (and the distortions of it) as she did in her earliest photo-works but playing also with the particularities of video, Simpson loops the video to play forward and backward. In this process a new melody is created even as the stationary figure appears same but different.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Chess [Échecs]' 2013

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Lorna Simpson
Chess [Échecs]
2013
HD video installation with three projections, black & white, sound
10:25 minutes (loop)
Score and performance by Jason Moran
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Chess [Échecs]' 2013

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Lorna Simpson
Chess [Échecs]
2013
HD video installation with three projections, black & white, sound
10:25 minutes (loop)
Score and performance by Jason Moran
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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“Gestures” and “reenactments” could both be described as the underlying methods of Simpson’s practice for the decades to follow. Whether working with photographs she herself staged, found photographs, or archival film footage, her images captured gestures (as in her earliest documentary photographs of 1978-1980) while her series of multiple images, accompanied by texts, proposed simultaneous (if not synchronous) reenactments. This method also applied to works in which she replicated found images, whether turning images from her films into drawings, or using herself to re-play roles depicted by anonymous figures she had discovered in vintage photographs, either for staged still photographs (as in 1957-2009, 2009), or for moving pictures (as in the video Chess, 2013).

Chess, 2013, Simpson’s video installation made expressly for this exhibition, draws on images from 1957- 2009, her still photograph ensemble of 2009 (on view in Gallery 4). For both, in a departure from her earlier videos and prior staged photographs, Simpson herself performs. In 1957-2009, by reenacting scenes from found vintage prints with which they are shown, Simpson is “mirroring both the male and  the female character, in dress, pose, expression, and setting. When I would mention the idea of working with mirrors [for the Chess video] people would often mention the famous portraits of Picasso and  Picabia taken at a photo studio in New York by an anonymous photographer who placed the subject   at a table in front of two mirrored panels at seventy-degree angles. The result is a five-way portrait that includes views that are not symmetrical and that offer slightly different angles: a surrealist trope of trick photography.”

Though the artist first rejected the idea of working with the mirror device used in these historic portraits, which she had seen many times, she decided to take it on fully and reconstruct it in her studio for this new video project after  art historian and sociologist Sarah Thornton sent her “a beautiful image of an unknown man of African descent in a white straw hat, which had been in an exhibition at MoMA [catalogue page 61]. It was a five-way portrait probably taken by the same photographer who had taken the portraits of Picasso and Picabia. I could no longer resist or dis- miss this idea. I felt that it was demanding my attention.”

Shot in Simpson’s studio over the weekend of December 8, 2012, Chess is comprised of three video projections. For two of them Simpson again plays both female and male chess-players, and with the help of makeup and hair assistants, she now allows her characters to age. The third projection shows pianist Jason Moran performing his improvised score for this project, which was inspired by discussions between artist and composer about “mirroring in music,” especially “in the work of musician Cecil Taylor, who employs mirroring in his compositions.”

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Lorna Simpson. 'The Car' 1995

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Lorna Simpson
The Car
1995
Serigraph on 12 felt panels with felt text panel
102 x 104 in (259.1 x 264.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'The Car' (detail) 1995

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Lorna Simpson
The Car (detail)
1995
Serigraph on 12 felt panels with felt text panel
102 x 104 in (259.1 x 264.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. '1957-2009' (detail) 2009

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Lorna Simpson
1957-2009 (detail)
2009
299 gelatin silver prints, framed
5 x 5 in. (12.7 x 12.7 cm) each (image size)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Lorna Simpson

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While collecting photo booth images on eBay, Simpson found the first of the vintage photographs – a woman in a tight sweater-dress leaning on a car – that would generate 19572009 (2009). The artist subsequently bought the entire album and in 2009 restaged these photographs of an anonymous black woman and sometimes a man performing for their camera between June and August 1957 in Los Angeles, which they may have done in the hope of gaining movie work in Hollywood or as an independent project of self-invention. For 1957-2009, Simpson reenacted both female and male roles, and the 299 images are comprised of both the 1957 originals and Simpson’s 2009 remakes. Simpson again reenacted a selection of these vignettes for her video installation Chess, 2013.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Cloudscape [Paysage nuageux]' 2004

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Lorna Simpson
Cloudscape [Paysage nuageux]
2004
Video projection, black & white, sound
3:00 minutes (loop)
Centre national des arts plastiques, purchase in 2005
Photo courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson/Centre national des arts plastiques

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Lorna Simpson’s video installation Cloudscape (2004) isolates one man, Simpson’s friend, the artist and musician Terry Adkins, in a dark room, spotlighted as he whistles a hymn and is enveloped in fog. Focusing on the ephemerality of performance, the artist employs a technique afforded by her medium to play with time as well. Simpson runs the video forward and then also backward in a continuous loop, creating new visual and oral/aural permutations of gesture and reenactment. In the reversal of the time sequence, the image remains somewhat familiar while the tune turns into something else, a different melody.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Momentum' 2010

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Lorna Simpson
Momentum
2010
HD video, color, sound
6:56 minutes
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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As Simpson explored new mediums, such as film and video starting in 1997 or found photographs in  the late 1990s, she continued to work in parallel with her felt serigraphs. In this gallery are three related sets of works that, unlike her earlier photo-text pieces, are all based on a personal memory: performing as a youngster, age 12, in gold costume, wig, and body paint in a ballet recital at New York’s Lincoln Center. Simpson re-staged such a performance for her video Momentum (2010).

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Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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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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08
Jun
12

Exhibition: ‘Cindy Sherman’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 26th February – 11th June 2012

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Ceaselessly inventive, the bodies (literally) of work of Cindy Sherman are a wonder to behold. From film stills to head shots, from history portrait to society portraits, Sherman constantly reinvents herself, her variations of identity exploring “the complexity of representation in a world saturated with images,” her iterations into the construction of femininity and masculinity constantly “provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.”

Where to next? Her recent series of digitally altered landscapes and portraits (Cindy Sherman at Metro Pictures, New York, April – June 2012) seem less resolved than her earlier work, becoming almost a pastiche of themselves. Despite their massive size they seem to lack resolution, the great female impersonator of our time relying for effect on Self as feminine earth (m)Other, tricked up in dubious, quasi-ethnic regalia. Sherman is almost sacrosanct with regard to criticism but it’s about time someone said it: these images are pretty awful.

After so many simulacra, so many layerings and expositions of identity isn’t it about time Sherman got back to basics and ditched these grandiose notions of identity sublime. The sublimation (an unconscious defense mechanism by which consciously unacceptable instinctual drives are expressed in personally and socially acceptable channels) of her/Self, her actual body, the energy of her (non) presence is finally starting to wear thin. Will the real Cindy Sherman (if ever there is such a thing) please stand up and tell us: what do you really stand for, where as a human being, is your spirit really at?

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Many thankx to MOMA 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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Cindy Sherman MOMA installation with photographs from her society portraits (2008) to left and centre

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Cindy Sherman MOMA history portraits (1988-90) installation

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Cindy Sherman MOMA headshots (2000-2002) installation

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled Film Still #21 
1978
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 1/2″ (19.1 x 24.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled Film Still #6 
1977
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 x 6 1/2″ (24 x 16.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled Film Still #56 
1980
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (16.2 x 24 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd

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Gallery 2

In fall 1977, Sherman began making pictures that would eventually become her groundbreaking Untitled Film Stills. Over three years, the series (presented here in its entirety) grew to comprise a total of seventy black-and-white photographs. Taken as a whole, the Untitled Film Stills – resembling publicity pictures made on movie sets – read like an encyclopedic roster of stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films. But while the characters and scenarios may seem familiar, Sherman’s Stills are entirely fictitious; they represent clichés (career girl, bombshell, girl on the run, vamp, housewife, and so on) that are deeply embedded in the cultural imagination. While the pictures can be appreciated individually, much of their significance comes in the endless variation of identities from one photograph to the next. As a group they explore the complexity of representation in a world saturated with images, and refer to the cultural filter of images (moving and still) through which we see the world.

Wall text from the exhibition

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #137 
1984
Chromogenic color print
70 1/2 x 47 3/4″ (179.1 x 121.3 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1985

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #458 
2007-08
Chromogenic color print
6′ 5 3/8″ x 58 1/4″ (196.5 x 148 cm)
Glenstone

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Gallery 3 

Fashion – a daily form of masquerade that communicates culture, gender, and class – has been a constant source of inspiration for Sherman and a leading ingredient in the creation of her work. Throughout her career the artist has completed a number of commissions for fashion designers and magazines, and this gallery gathers many of these works. Sherman’s fashion pictures challenge the industry’s conventions of beauty and grace. Her first such commission, made in 1983, parodies typical fashion photography. Rather than projecting glamour, sex, or wealth, the pictures feature characters that are far from desirable – whether goofy, hysterical, angry, or slightly mad. Later commissions resulted in more extreme images of characters with bloodshot eyes, bruises, and scars. These exaggerated figures reached ostentatious heights in a 2007-08 commission, in which fashion victims – including steely fashion editors, PR mavens, assistant buyers, and wannabe fashionistas – wear clothing designed by Balenciaga and ham it up for the camera. Sherman’s interest in the construction of femininity and the mass circulation of images informs much of her work; the projects that take fashion as their subject illustrate the artist’s fascination with fashion images but also her critique of what they represent.

Wall text from the exhibition

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #424 
2004
Chromogenic color print
53 3/4 x 54 3/4″ (136.5 x 139.1 cm)
Holzer Family Collection

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Gallery 5 

Sherman, who photographs alone in her studio, has used a variety of techniques to suggest different locations and imaginary (sometimes impossible) spaces, extending the narrative possibilities of her images. In her first foray into color, in 1980, the artist photographed herself in front of rear-screen projections of various cityscapes and landscapes, evoking films from the 1950s and 1960s that used similar techniques to create the illusion of a change in location. In later series, such as the head shots (2000-2002), clowns (2003-04), and society portraits (2008), the artist used digital tools to create a variety of environments. The garish fluorescent colors in a clown picture contribute to the disturbing quality of the portrait, while a fairy tale forest provides a dreamy backdrop for a well-to-do lady.

Wall text from the exhibition

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“The Museum of Modern Art presents the exhibition Cindy Sherman, a retrospective tracing the groundbreaking artist’s career from the mid-1970s to the present, from February 26 to June 11, 2012. The exhibition brings together 171 key photographs from the artist’s significant series – including the complete Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), the critically acclaimed centerfolds (1981), and the celebrated history portraits (1988-90) – plus examples from all of her most important bodies of work, ranging from her fashion photography of the early 1980s to the breakthrough sex pictures of 1992 to her 2003-04 clowns and monumental society portraits from 2008. In addition, the exhibition features the American premiere of her 2010 photographic mural. An exhibition of films drawn from MoMA’s collection selected by Sherman will also be presented in the Museum’s theaters in April. Cindy Sherman is organized by Eva Respini, Associate Curator, with Lucy Gallun, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Cindy Sherman is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential artists of our time and her work is the unchallenged cornerstone of post-modern photography. Masquerading as a myriad of characters in front of her own camera, Sherman creates invented personas and tableaus that examine the construction of identity, the nature of representation, and the artifice of photography. Her works speak to an increasingly image-saturated world, drawing on the unlimited supply of visual material provided by movies, television, magazines, the Internet, and art history.

Ms. Respini says, “To create her photographs, Sherman works unassisted in her studio and assumes multiple roles as photographer, model, art director, make-up artist, hairdresser, and stylist. Whether portraying a career girl or a blond bombshell, a fashion victim or a clown, a French aristocrat or a society lady of a certain age, for over 35 years this relentlessly adventurous artist has created an eloquent and provocative body of work that resonates deeply with our visual culture.” 

The American premiere of Sherman’s recent photographic mural (2010) will be installed outside the galleries on the sixth floor. The mural represents the artist’s first foray into transforming space through site-specific fictive environments. In the mural Sherman transforms her face via digital means, exaggerating her features through Photoshop by elongating her nose, narrowing her eyes, or creating smaller lips. The characters, who sport an odd mix of costumes and are taken from daily life, are elevated to larger-than-life status and tower over the viewer. Set against a decorative toile backdrop, her characters seem like protagonists from their own carnivalesque worlds, where fantasy and reality merge. The emphasis on new work presents an opportunity for reassessment in light of the latest developments in Sherman’s oeuvre.

Entering the galleries, the exhibition strays from a chronological narrative typical of retrospectives, and groups photographs thematically to create new and surprising juxtapositions and to suggest common threads across several series. A gallery devoted to her work made for the fashion industry brings together commissions from 1983 to 2011. Sherman’s interest in the construction of femininity and mass circulation of images informs much of the work that takes fashion as its subject, illustrating not only a fascination with fashion images but also a critical stance against what they represent. A gallery exploring themes of the grotesque focuses on bodies of work from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, including disasters (1986-89) and sex pictures (1992). Sherman’s investigation of macabre narratives followed a trajectory of the physical disintegration of the body, and features prosthetic parts as a stand-in for the human body. A gallery devoted to Sherman’s exploration of myth, carnival, and fairy tales pairs works from her 2003 clowns with her 1985 fairy tales series. These theatrical pictures revel in their own artificiality, with menacing characters and fantastical narratives.

Galleries devoted to single bodies of work are interspersed among the thematic rooms. Sherman’s seminal series the Untitled Film Stills, comprising 70 black-and-white photographs made between 1977 and 1980, are presented in their entirety (the complete series is in MoMA’s collection). Made to look like publicity pictures taken on movie sets, the Untitled Film Stills read like an encyclopedic roster of female roles inspired by 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films. While the characters and scenarios may seem familiar, Sherman’s Stills are entirely fictitious. Her characters represent deeply embedded clichés (career girl, bombshell, girl on the run, housewife, and so on) and rely on the persistence of recognizable manufactured stereotypes that loom large in the cultural imagination.

Other series presented in depth include Sherman’s 1981 series of 12-color photographs known as the centerfolds. Originally commissioned by Artforum magazine, these send-ups of men’s erotic magazine centerfolds depict characters in a variety of emotional states, ranging from terrified to heartbroken to melancholic. With this series, Sherman plays into the male conditioning of looking at photographs of exposed women, but she turns this on its head by taking on the roles of both (assumed) male photographer and female pinup. The history portraits investigate the relationships between painter and model, and are featured in depth in the exhibition. These theatrical portraits borrow from a number of art historical periods, from Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical. This free-association sampling creates an illusion of familiarity, but not with any one specific era or style (just as the Untitled Film Stillsevoke generic types, not particular films). The subjects (for the first time, many are men) include aristocrats, Madonna and child, clergymen, women of leisure, and milkmaids, who pose with props, elaborate costumes, and obvious prostheses.

Sherman has explored the experience of aging in a youth- and status-obsessed society with several bodies of work made since 2000. For her headshots from 2000-2002 (sometimes called Hollywood/Hamptons), the artist conceived a cast of characters of would-be or has-been actors (in reality secretaries, housewives, or gardeners) posing for headshots to get an acting job. With this series, Sherman underscores the transformative qualities of makeup, hair, expression, and pose, and the recognition of certain stereotypes as powerful transmitters of cultural clichés. Her monumental 2008 society portraits feature women “of a certain age” from the top echelons of society who struggle with today’s impossible standards of beauty. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through in the unrelenting honesty of the description of aging and the small details that belie the attempt to project a certain appearance. In the infinite possibilities of the mutability of identity, these pictures stand out for their ability to be at once provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.”

Press release from the MOMA website

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #193 
1989
Chromogenic color print
48 7/8 x 41 15/16″ (124.1 x 106.5 cm)
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #213 
1989
Chromogenic color print
41 1/2 x 33″ (105.4 x 83.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #216 
1989
Chromogenic color print
7′ 3 1/8″ x 56 1/8″ (221.3 x 142.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser

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Gallery 7 

Sherman’s history portraits (1988-90) investigate modes of representation in art history and the relationship between painter and model. These classically composed portraits borrow from a number of art-historical periods – Renaissance, baroque, rococo, Neoclassical – and make allusions to paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio, Fragonard, and Ingres (who, like all the Old Masters, were men). This free-association sampling creates a sense of familiarity, but not of any one specific era or style. The subjects (for the first time for Sherman, many are men) include aristocrats, Madonnas with child, clergymen, women of leisure, and milk-maids, who pose with props, costumes, and obvious prostheses. Theatrical and artificial – full of large noses, bulging bellies, squirting breasts, warts, and unibrows – the history portraits are poised between humorous parody and grotesque caricature.

A handful of Sherman’s portraits were inspired by actual paintings. Untitled #224 was made after Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus (c. 1593), which is commonly believed to be a self-portrait of the artist as the Roman god of wine. In Sherman’s reinterpretation, the numerous layers of representation – a female artist impersonating a male artist impersonating a pagan divinity – create a sense of remove, pastiche, and criticality. Even where Sherman’s pictures offer a gleam of art-historical recognition, she has inserted her own interpretation of the canonized paintings, creating contemporary artifacts of a bygone era.

Wall text from the exhibition

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #359 
2000
Chromogenic color print
30 x 20″ (76.2 x 50.8 cm)
Collection Metro Pictures, New York

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Gallery 8 

After almost a decade of staging still lifes with dolls and props, in her 2000-2002 head-shots series Sherman returned to a more intimate scale and to using herself as a model. The format recalls ID pictures, head shots, or vanity portraits made in garden-variety portrait studios by professional photographers. First exhibited in Beverly Hills, the series explores the cycle of desire and failed ambition that permeates Hollywood. Sherman conceived a cast of would-be or has-been female actors posing for head shots in order to get acting jobs; later, for an exhibition in New York, she added East Coast types. Whichever part of the country they’re from, we’ve seen these women before – on reality television, in soap operas, or at a PTA meeting. With these pictures, Sherman underscores the transformative qualities of makeup, hair, express-ion, and pose, and the power of stereotypes as transmitters of cultural clichés. She projects well-drawn personas: the enormous pouting lips of the woman in Untitled #360 suggest a yearning for youth, while the glittery makeup and purple iridescent dress worn by the character in Untitled #400 indicate an aspiration to reach a certain social status. In her role as both sitter and photographer, Sherman has disrupted the usual power dynamic between model and photographer and created new avenues through which to explore the very apparatus of portrait photography itself.

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #465 
2008
Chromogenic color print
63 3/4 x 57 1/4″ (161.9 x 145.4 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Photography Committee, 2009

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #466
2008
Chromogenic color print

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #474 
2008
Chromogenic color print
7′ 7″ x 60 1/4″ (231.1 x 153 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor, Michael Lynne, Charles Heilbronn, and the Carol and David Appel Family Fund

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Gallery 10 

Set against opulent backdrops and presented in ornate frames, the characters in Sherman’s 2008 society portraits seem at once tragic and vulgar. The figures are not based on specific women, but the artist has made them look entirely familiar in their struggle with the impossible standards of beauty that prevail in a youth – and status – obsessed culture. At this large scale, it is easy to decipher the characters’ vulnerability behind the makeup, clothes, and jewelry. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through the unrelenting honesty of their description of aging, the tell-tale signs of cosmetic alteration, and the small details that belie the characters’ attempts to project a polished and elegant appearance. Upon careful viewing, they reveal a dark reality lurking beneath the glossy surface of perfection. As with much of her work, in her society portraits Sherman has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to channel the zeitgeist. These well-heeled divas presaged the financial collapse of 2008, the end of an era of opulence – the size of the photographs alone seems a commentary on an age of excess. Among the numerous iterations of contemporary identity, these pictures stand out as at once provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.

Wall text from the exhibition

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Cindy Sherman
Untitled #475 
2008
Chromogenic color print
7′ 2 3/8″ x 71 1/2″ (219.4 x 181.6 cm)
The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica

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Gallery 11 

Because the majority of Sherman’s pictures feature the artist as model, they showcase a single character. In the 1970s Sherman experimented with cutouts of multiple figures, in her whimsical 1975 stop-motion animated short film Doll Clothes and her rarely seen 1976 collages, which were achieved through a labor-intensive process of cutting and pasting multiple photographs. When Sherman began working digitally in the early 2000s, she was able to more easily incorporate multiple figures in one frame, allowing for a variety of new narrative possibilities. Where the early works chart the movements and gestures of a single character through space, the multiple figures in recent works interact with one another to create tableaus.

Wall text from the exhibition

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The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Monday, 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Friday, 10:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Closed Tuesday

My Favourite Cindy Sherman at MOMA

MOMA website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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