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July 03, 2008

Something to get excited about, Guggenheim's Catherine Opie Mid-Career Survey

Guggenheim's Catherine Opie Mid-Career Survey show to open in the fall!

We at MAO are very excited to see a major NYC museum FINALLY doing something risque a large scale cutting edge contemporary photography show. We just love love love Catherine Opie and her brilliant photography!!

This show also marks one of the first major museum shows by a living OUT female artist to ever be exhibited in NYC. It's about time!! Congrats Catherine!!

Catherine_Opie_Self_Portrait As they say... one picture is worth a thousand words... Well...here's 2,000 at least !!

(Photo #1 by Catherine Opie, Self Portrait / Nursing, 2004, C-Print, edition of 8, 40 x 32 inches)

(Photo #2, by Catherine Opie; Self Portrait/Cutting, 1993; Chromogenic color print; 39 5/8 x 29 15/16 in.)

Here are all the details...We can't wait!!! 

Catherine Opie: American Photographer
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
On View: September 26, 2008 – January 7, 2009
Media Preview: September 25, 10AM - 12PM

Since the early 1990s, Catherine Opie has produced a complex body of photographic work, adopting such diverse genres as studio portraiture, landscape photography, and urban street photography to explore notions of communal, sexual, and cultural identity. From her early portraits of queer subcultures to her expansive urban landscapes, Opie has offered profound insights into the conditions in which communities form and the terms by which they are defined. All the while she has maintained a strict formal rigor, working in stark and provocative color as well as richly toned black and white. Influenced by social documentary photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and August Sander, Opie underscores and elevates the poignant yet unsettling veracity of her subjects.

Catherine_Opie_self_portrait_cutting Catherine Opie: American Photographeris organized by Jennifer Blessing, Curator of Photography; with Nat Trotman, Assistant Curator.

This exhibition is supported by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

The Guggenheim Museum gratefully acknowledges the Leadership Committee for Catherine Opie: American Photographer.

The exhibition will gather together significant examples from several of Opie’s most important series in a major mid-career survey. Though Opie’s photographs have been shown extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan—including one-person exhibitions at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut; Artpace, San Antonio; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California; St. Louis Art Museum; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Photographers’ Gallery, London—no single exhibition has yet offered an overview of her richly diverse artistic projects. Catherine Opie: American Photographer will serve to fill this void.

Opie first came to prominence with her Portraitsseries (1993–97), which celebrates the queer community in San Francisco and Los Angeles, including practitioners of drag, transgendered people, and performance artists. Set against brilliantly colored backgrounds, these figures confront the viewer with intense gazes, asserting their individuality and destabilizing conventional notions of gender. Opie describes these sitters, all of whom she knew personally, as her “royal family”; by adopting a style inspired by portraitists like the 16th-century German painter Hans Holbein, she offers an affirmative and even tender portrayal of a subculture often rendered invisible by dominant cultural norms.

Concurrently with the Portraits, in the mid-1990s Opie began to photograph urban landscapes throughout Los Angeles. Her first city series, Freeways (1994–95), pictures the city’s highways devoid of human presence, their sweeping slabs of concrete set against the sky. Nearly abstract and printed on an intimate scale, these photographs are nonetheless analogous to Opie’s portraits in their majesty. As documents of a primary aspect of daily travel in Los Angeles, the Freeways suggest that the strategies and structures intended to connect people can in fact divide them.

The Houses series (1995) continued Opie’s urban exploration through crisp, frontal views of Beverly Hills and Bel Air mansions that, like the Freeways, appear devoid of human presence. Yet each pristine façade retains as distinct a character as each of the friends Opie portrays—these houses structure and signify the community within which their occupants exist. Symbols of the archetypal “American Dream,” they are nonetheless armed with complex security systems, massive doors, and ornate gates, marking an entirely separate community, one closed off to the artist, the viewer, and the rest of the surrounding city.

Opie’s interests in portraiture and domestic architecture continued to develop, and began to merge, in her series Domestic(1995-98). Produced during a three-month trip across the country, these large-scale, color photographs document lesbian families engaged in everyday household activities, in settings varying from city apartments to country homes. Repositioning these unconventional families within the iconography of the classic American home, Opie envisions a more inclusive, complex image of the contemporary family. More recently, Opie has turned to her own domestic life in the series In and Around Home(2004–05), in which she photographs her own family and friends amidst the diverse cultural setting of her Los Angeles neighborhood.

Following the Freeways, Opie has continued to investigate the ways communities form and display themselves within urban settings, in an extended series of panoramic black-and-white photographs called American Cities(1997–present). Exploring the urban environments of Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, and St. Louis, among others, Opie reveals the variety of communities that exist within each city. For example, the Mini-Malls, the group of photographs that initiated American Cities, focuses insistently on the billboards, signs, and architectural elements that identify various ethnic and cultural groups in each eponymous setting. Characteristically, all the series’ photographs are emptied of human presence. With their romantic purity, each of the American Cities becomes an iconic, ideal platform for potential community interaction.

Ever seeking to diversify her artistic work, Opie has also turned away from the city, looking toward nature and the itinerant communities that exist upon it. In Icehouses(2001), she turns to the brightly painted structures built by ice fishers on frozen lakes in Minnesota. Viewed from afar, surrounded by an infinite vista of misty snow and atmosphere, the patchy assemblage of icehouses seems diminutive and immaterial. Similarly, the subjects of Surfers(2003) are virtually engulfed in the vast and gloomy shoreline of Malibu, where they watch and wait to be swept up by oncoming waves. Picturing their changing positions over the course of fourteen photographs, Opie presents a rich visual metaphor for the shifting and contingent nature of community itself, as it exists in any environment.

Catherine Opie: American Photographerwill be accompanied by a major publication, the first to gather all of Opie’s various projects in one volume. Each of the artist’s series will be reproduced in full color plates made under the artist’s supervision, including works beyond those displayed in the exhibition, in order to give the most complete overview of Opie’s work ever available. The catalogue will feature a lead essay by Jennifer Blessing, the Guggenheim’s Curator of Photography, which will survey Opie’s artistic career and its historical contexts, as well as a series of interviews with the artist by Russell Ferguson.

In addition, the museum has commissioned a brief personal reflection by internationally renowned novelist Dorothy Allison, whose work explores concerns similar to Opie’s. Finally, the catalogue will also include introductory essays on each of the artist's series by Nat Trotman, Assistant Curator at the Guggenheim, as well as a newly researched, exhaustive exhibition history and bibliography. Together, the exhibition and catalogue will prove to be the primary source for an understanding of Opie’s work, providing audiences with a valuable opportunity to examine firsthand the interconnections between the artists’ various styles and subjects.


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I'd love to put on a companion exhibition and catalog of every other photographer that Catherine Opie has literally copied and stolen from during her career. In addition to being the most unattractive artist EVER, she has nary an original thought in her head and never acknowledges the work she has stolen from -- whether Mark Wyse, Scott Peterman, Brian Finke -- the woman has no honor.

Does art really matter if the artist is attractive or not? Catherine Opie is a brilliant artist. Who is really so original nowadays? Some Cindy Sherman pieces were inspired by Hans Bellmer. The Bechers were influenced by Renger-Patsch and Blossfledt. Opie's work has much diff feeling and deeper than Brian Finke's football series.
If you don't get her work, that can't be helped. To each his own.

Thanks for the comments..

But Art Old Spice.. what are you talking about?? Please explain?

What has Catherine Opie "Stolen" from Brian Finke? I like Brian Finke's work very much, but I don't see a strong conection.

As for the "unattractive artist.." that statement just reeks of total jealousy, prejudice, hate and ignorance...why go there?

Let the fireworks begin before July 4th !

As far as I know everything in ART is done by now and there is nothing wrong with re-interpretation, reference or being influenced by another artist's work as long as there is an individual interpretation of it.

Judging an artist by their looks comes across rather shallow. If the work is not your style and not pleasant to your eye ...don't buy it or look at it.Then again if the work and the artist is causing such reaction and emotion...something must be working!

Ok, Miss Fire-Crackers...chill out and enjoy the ho ho holiday!

I know it was a cruel remark, but I just can't stand obese women...it's probably something Freudian, but I value them less as human beings...something about having no will power and/or respect from themselves - and it's unhygienic. So shoot me. As noted above, Opie borrowed the football player typology idea from Finke...IMO. Ditto Scott Peterman's Ice Houses and Mark Wyse's ocean photos. Usually the student copies the teacher, not the other way around. (Plus, Opie's football series was one of the most boring things I've ever seen.) Looking at that big Jabba the Hut mound of carved flesh holding the baby is as horrific as any nightmare scene Clive Barker could have come up with!

I have not ever seen a single photograph by Opie that I've ever thought was an unforgettable image, nor have I seen anything by Opie that I think is a great addition and adds anything of value to the current state of art in our times. Nor have I ever seen a photograph by her that I thought 'yup, that's an Opie.' Maybe there's something going on conceptually that I just don't get? But I doubt it.

Whatever happened to the day when grace and manners dictated that you said you were happy for someone when they got recognition after years of hard work? So it's not your particular favorite...why all the bile? Clearly enough other people love C.O.'s work to make this exhibition possible and exciting...including the host of the blog you're on.

This is not your living room or a bar. Show some class.

Also, tying how you feel about someone's looks to their art is sophmoric and more or less invalidates the rest of your opinion about the work as well, as it demonstrates a severe lack of objectivity, not to mention a severe lack of openmindedness.

I look forward to seeing the exhibition and seeing what a survey of C.O.'s work will teach me. Approaching the exhibition with one's mind made up beforehand is to deny oneself that possibility.

Indeed, any other response to this news seems petty, boorish, and mindlessly jealous.

Whatever one thinks about Opie's work, it's great news that the Guggenheim is paying attention to contemporary photography, rather than, say, motorcycles.

1. It's a post on a 'blog' and you're telling me have class? And your opinion of class is equivalent to showing praise? We'd get very far in art if no one was ever critical right?

Her images are completely forgettable and this photographer has a show at a major institution while many other great artists won't ever get a show of this caliber. Why should I be happy about that? (And I don't care what she looks like)

2. And Lisa I have to say motorcycles are gorgeous machines. I'd go back in a second to see them over going to see Opie.

If I said she was an acne-scarred golem-like homunculus, but damn is she a GREAT photographer, then I doubt you'd think my critique of her appearance negates my opinion of her art. And I'll admit, if she looked like Lara Logan I might enjoy her art more (though I'd keep the derivative comments to myself). Mona Kuhn stinks too, but she's hot! Opie's mainly gotten a free ride in the art world because she's an LGTB poster child/fave of other gay/lesbian art critics, curators and boosters such as Tyler Green, etc. But don't worry, my opinion of her will have no affect on the art world machine that's already in place. Heck, Jerry Saltz has been trying to kill off Marlene Dumas' career for years to no avail.

It seems it takes very little to
get MAO excited-cutting edge of what ? And all that blather about
the works and then dragging in Holbein as comparison -only a
wretched auction house would go
that route of used car salesmen.The Guggenheims'reputation isn't worth a spit in the ocean .

Thanks for all the sincere comments, but MAO's a bit surprised with the shear venom toward Catherine Opie, personally and her photographic art.

Ariel.. MAO gets excited anytime a living contemporary photographer EVER gets a major show at a NYC museum. Add in the fact that it's the first major NYC show by a living OUT proud lesbian woman, and it's a win win!

It's amazing that just a simple MAO show announcement post about Catherine Opie has provoked such a contentious debate before the exhibition opens. Isn't this exactly what a great museum should hope to do? MAO would say the Guggenheim's show has already succeeded! NO?

Oh please stop. Well, i'm going to hope two things: A) people talk out of their ass when they're commenting online. They say things they would never dream of saying in person. So "Old Spice" should be taken with a few grains of salt.

B) As sad as it is to see such vociferous venom about a photographer... No one should take anything that's been said here so far seriously.

Catherine's football pictures are nothing like Finke's. And that's just one example not worth pointing out. Everyone is influenced by everything and everyone in a cycle of creation and homage and counterfeit and copying and exceeding and sometimes not.

Other thoughts: Opie's work is deceiving. Sometimes it looks like nothing. I remember the long-distance shots of surfers in the ocean at the Whitney Biennial. I thought they were uninteresting. Then I saw a few again just this year at the MCA in Chicago. Amongst sculpture and video and installations from the "collection" they looked completely different and minimal and a bit Pop...sort of Richard MIsrach meets "The O.C." and I was perplexed.

As for attractiveness: What are you going to say next, that John Coplans looks like an elephant so his pictures "suck," too?

Anyway: Thanks Mike for giving us something to look forward to this fall. The show, and the "aftermath" conversation online.

cheers, AA

Are these ARTISTS who are making comments that are so steeped in pedestrian, conventional standards of beauty? (Um, that's one of the points of the images??) If so, better give it up and find a new line of work, guys...

here is some information people really need to know:

Lets just kill this rumor of copying (stupid idea in art) and get some things straight with a true timeline.

True: Catherine Opie was a teacher to Mark Wyse at Yale, but do you know that Mark Wyse printed her Surfer series in Los Angeles. By coincidence he was also photographing surfers at the same time. Again completely different images and pure coincidence.

True: Catherine Opie made images of Ice Houses in 2000-2001 in Minnesota. She proposed the work to The Walker in 1999 with that concept as an ongoing series for "American Cities". Scott Peterman was also photographing at the same time. Again coincidence and her images are completely different, it is about the panorama and landscape. Scott's work is also landscape but you engage with the images in relationship to portraiture more so than landscape.

Catherine Opie as said on another blog did not wander the halls at Yale and find his work to copy.

Brian Finke did make photographs of football players, but Catherine Opie also photographed football players in 1985 and then returned to it as she often does in her work. Again it is completely different work.

This is "for the record"

She is truly a unique artist and I think many of you probably will see something completely different if you go see the work. Maybe you won't, but just know that these petty and uninformed and at times rude comments are ill informed, it proves you have not done any thoughtful research on her work. Hope you do.

Catherine Opie is a remarkable person and photographer.
I have known her since her childhood years and she
has always shown great kindness and enthusiasm toward
those around her. Her work pleases the eye while setting
my mind in motion. I relate her work to the great French
impressionist era of painting.

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