“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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“Being and Having” by Catherine Opie where “Chicken” = Jenny Shimizu

The complete series of "Being and Having" by Catherine Opie.

"Bo" and "Chicken"

“Shown as Opie’s first one-person gallery exhibition in November 1991 at New York’s 494 Gallery, Being and Having marked the first incidence of the strict seriality and formal classicism that would govern much of the artist’s work to come. The thirteen color photographs that make up the series are variations on a theme: decked out in exaggerated masculine facial hair and other macho props, Opie’s lesbian friends are shot against a brilliant yellow background while they stare directly into the lens of the camera. Each closely cropped image is presented in a wooden frame bearing a nameplate that lists the sitter’s party name in etched cursive script: Chicken, Con, Ingin, Papa Bear, and so on. Deliberately toying with the outward signs of gender displayed by their subjects, Opie’s photographs lambast the notion of gender identifications as stable, unified, or in any way natural.”

— Nat Trotman

Source: Catherine Opie: American Photographer, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Exhibition Catalogue, Pg. 42, 2008.

To read more on Catherine Opie, and the Being and Having series, purchase the American Photographer exhibition catalog here.