ZABRISKIE GALLERY

 
 

Who? Me? Role-Play in Self-Portrait Photography


From December 17 to January 24, 2003, Zabriskie Gallery exhibits self-portrait photographs that contend with the idea of role-playing, looking at how artists use physical adornment, alteration, and conceptual ingenuity to shape the identity and social concept of the individual. Artists include Dieter Appelt, Karl Baden, Jayne Hinds Bidaut, David Henry Brown, Claude Cahun, Countess de Castiglione, Tseng Kwong Chi, Renee Cox, Joan Fontcuberta, Anthony Goicolea, Marc Grubstein, Robert and Shana Parke Harrison, Simen Johan, Harry Kipper, Nikki Lee, Jan Van Leeuwen, Ari Marcopoulos, Katherine McDowell, Pierre Molinier, Mariko Mori, Yasumasa Morimura, Shigeyoshi Ohi, Luigi Ontani, Orlan, John O'Reilly, Joe Ovelman, Adrian Piper, Man Ray, Tomoko Sawada, Cindy Sherman, Franck and Olivier Turpin, Iké Udé, Ben Vautier, and Rachel Watson.

Whether for the sake of illustrating a point, concept, or for fun, artists find all reasons for photographing themselves in different guises and personas. With good props, a little make-up and costume, they continue to tap into the archetypic schizophrenia of the ego and the fantasy land where creativity resides. Using digital or traditional photographic mediums, artists transform themselves into beings that are mundane, glamorous, and otherworldly, often hugging the lines of familiarity and fiction. Early on, the Countess de Castiglione dressed herself in extravagant costumes and assumed roles drawn from the theatre, opera, literature, and her own imagination, appearing as seductress, coquette, mysteriously masked socialite, and other get-ups - a precursor to like-minded by Molinier and Cahun. On another bar of the conceptual spectrum, contemporary artist Joan Fontcuberta uses the photographic document to betray itself as a document of truth by creating "real historical" evidence through pictures. In his Sputnik series, Fontcuberta plays the role of a "non-existent" Russian cosmonaut, lost in space and communist history, brought to life once again by the "discovery" of "declassified" photographs. In a similar, understated manner, Luigi Ontani creates romanticized versions of mythologies and monsters, depicting himself in a literal yet eye-catching way as a centaur, Leda, Dante, and other personifications. Teasing history in a different way, John O'Reilly's methods are subtle, employing collage to insert himself in a sexually charged art history of the sacred and profane, time-travelling back as an observer in the studios of such artists as Courbet and Eakins. O'Reilly's methods are in turn updated by the digitally constructed chronicles of Anthony Goicolea, who multiplies himself in bizarre narratives that exaggerate and depict the naughty side of adolescent behavior.

Other artists use themselves in a more socio-political fashion, and as fashion. Cindy Sherman and Iké Udé both play to media and socially constructed stereotypes and ideals. One utilizing snapshots while the latter chooses gloss magazine trompe l'oeil. In the immediacy of her booth photos, Tomoko Sawada seems to pronounce the statement that "I can be anyone I choose on any given day." Like Udé, Yasumasa Morimura also touches upon issues high profile media glamour, assuming roles which speak as much about the life of the "art star" and personal vanity as much as they pay homage to historical icons -- Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, etc. Nikki Lee, in her numerous subculture infiltrations, has enviously achieved what the world fails so miserably at, which is possessing the ability to fit in and find acceptance in the mist of cultural and ethnic differences, while retaining one's individuality, one that is ultimately lasting in the works of all these artists.

This exhibition is curated by Trong G. Nguyen.

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