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Critics' Pick: Catherine Opie
The exhibition “700 Nimes Road” is named for the address of Elizabeth Taylor’s Bel Air home, which Catherine Opie—who shared an accountant with the star—gained access to in November of 2010 and photographed over a six-month period beginning that December. The project took on new significance when Taylor, who had fallen ill, died: Opie’s fifty-print portfolio shows the contours and eccentricities of a life she never directly observed. The works also subtly chart the transition of the house from a home to something else—a memorial, an archive, or a complicated asset—as, for example, Taylor’s jewelry collection is aired and inventoried. The Emeralds, 2010–11, shows her famous Bulgari “green set,” a gift from Richard Burton. Shot in the sun, maybe by the pool, it’s out of focus, like Opie’s seductively generalized landscapes on view across town at the gallery’s Chelsea space.
Opie cites William Eggleston’s “Graceland” suite from 1984 as a precedent for this work, and it does echo his bold compositions. But, while Elvis Presley’s ostentatious taste becomes a somewhat impersonal artifact of Americana in Eggleston’s photos, Taylor’s hand and history are felt everywhere in Opie’s. Cropped views make captivating tableaux of the legend’s tchotchkes: perfume diffusers, Oscars, Maltese-terrier statuettes, and snapshots of Michael Jackson in cheap-looking frames. Wider shots reveal a worn fairy-tale land of pastel carpeting that one wants to wander in a dressing gown. In the detailed and mysterious photos of this cumulative portrait, Opie includes traces of both heartbreak and quotidian routine. And though such allusions give the work its voyeuristic edge, we’re satisfied by Opie’s discretion—the impressions relayed by an astute but unobtrusive guest.