“Girlfriends” by Catherine Opie at Gladstone Gallery, 2010 & New York Times Review by Linda Yablonsky

Jenny (Bed), 2009

Jenny, 2009

Artifacts | Catherine Opie’s ‘Girlfriends’ By LINDA YABLONSKY | MARCH 19, 2010, 2:46 PM

Catherine Opie knows women. Self-possessed, gender-defying women who favor piercings and tattoos, and run in her butch-lesbian-bondage crowd in Los Angeles. The kind of women who attract stares and sometimes abuse. Their hair-raising, Hans Holbein-inspired portraits in Opie’s breakout appearance at the 1995 Whitney Biennial, when “identity politics” were at their height, gave her a notoriety that sent her in pursuit of less polarizing subjects: surfers, California freeways, city skylines, grand western landscapes and even high school football players.

Now, two years after her retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, Opie has returned to her community roots with “Girlfriends,” a knockout show of new and never-before-seen portraits at the Gladstone Gallery. Shot in her studio during formal sittings or more casually either outdoors or at home, they include some of her past subjects as they are now, even more tattooed, transgendered – and in the case of the bare-chested Pig Pen and Alexa – riveting. There are some familiar faces as well: “The L Word” star Kate Moenning blowing a perfect smoke ring, a serious k.d. lang, a leathered-up Jenny Shimizu astride her Ducati and, in another photo, coming on from her bed. These girls sure don’t cry. They owe nothing to nobody. They are who they are. If it’s an underground they represent, it’s getting a lot of fresh air in this blue-chip gallery.

The show also includes small black-and-white portraits from the early ’90s, pictures of boyish babes that Opie made as a freshman documentarian and has since been keeping to herself. They are by turns innocent, playful and frightening. All together, “Girlfriends” shows Opie continuing to explore the hidden territories behind constructed facades. Looking at her pictures can be uncomfortable, not because of their confrontational content but because they reveal as much about the beholder as the beheld.

“Girlfriends” is on view until April 24 at Gladstone Gallery, 515 West 24th Street.

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