Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Catherine Opie: Figure and Landscape

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

As promised, part two of the “gay” shows at LACMA.  But first, let’s discuss the gift shop that bridges the Eakins exhibition with the Opie exhibition.  LACMA, it seems, has been getting more and more brash with their gift shops, Pompeii’s gift shop was a smorgasbord of Italianate tourist crap, at least the Baldessari giftshop had some integrity with those clever erasers.  Let’s let the pictures speak for themselves.

Porn set or museum gift shop?

Okay I’m not really going to let the pictures speak for themselves; just look at those lockers! This is no longer a museum giftshop but a cheap set from a gay porn that takes place in a lockerroom.  Yes you can buy some related books on the two artists, and yes you can purchase some limited-edition Opie prints, but you can also buy LACMA jerseys and LACMA gym bags (sorry you can’t buy them online).  Why would anyone want to buy these items, especially when they don’t even have Baldessari’s logo on them?  When I asked the giftshop attendant if anyone had purchased a LACMA jersey, she said that to her knowledge no one had.  Hope they didn’t order too many of those LACMA jerseys.

Figure(s) and a landscape.

Out of the gift shop one enters into the Opie exhibition.  I don’t know whether I came in through the end, or should have gone through the other way, but I don’t think it mattered.  The first landscapes I saw were a series of surfers from 2003.  Several large framed photos were hung together to create a long horizon; the images practically disappeared into the muted blue walls of the gallery. In another gallery, sunlight (through glass bricks, a building material I think is SO eighties, but is apparently LOVED here in Chicago) illuminated the space and several river and forest landscapes. Sort of boring, where’s the gay stuff?

Contemporary symbols of masculinity waging battle.

In the last room, a cavernous space in the Art of the Americas building, which is usually arranged with temporary walls, was the “gay” stuff: photographs of football players.  High school football players, so let’s be careful because some of these jocks are still jailbait.  This is the major content of the show.  Wide compositions of helmeted players attempting firstdown look like epic battle scenes in this scale, especially compared to TV coverage of games which is usually areal views.  These large landscapes (with figures in them) are punctuated in the room by close up portraits the young men.

My friend who accompanied me (and who also has a thing for highschool football players) was torn between his attraction to these young men with their virile athleticism, and the fact that most of them had disgusting braces, and bad cases of acne.  I wondered if the subjects of these portraits know who Catherine Opie is, that she’s a lesbian, and that she had turned them into objects of homosexual desire, or at least objects of my friend’s homosexual desire.  Like a good blogger, I also wondered where all these photos had come from.

Hot and on loan: Tyler and Sean J.

Tyler (2007) and his farmer’s tan had come from across town, from the Hammer, many of the photos were here courtesy of the artist and her gallery.  Two of these portraits are on loan from private collectors.  The Justin-Bieber-haired Dusty (2007) had been loaned from Gerry Rich, and the ab-displaying Sean J (2008) had come from Eugene Sadovoy. Here is a funny headline about Rich considering this discussion, as well as some shots of his abode.  And Sadovoy seems to like California artists despite being an Eastcoaster who works for the Guggenheim.

The exhibition was curator by the still-new-ish Wallis Annenberg Photography Department curator Britt Salvesen.  I must say I much prefer this show to some of her previous work at LACMA.  Compared to New Topographics the scale of the works compared to the scale of the space is much more appropriate.  No tiny black and white photos on huge white walls here.

– H.I.

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