Ohio-born, internationally renowned photographer Catherine Opie returns for the regional debut of a recent series of formal portraits and abstract landscapes. Among contemporary American photographers, Opie is exceptionally attuned to the histories of representation, and Portraits and Landscapes vigorously embodies the artist’s conversation with classical European portraiture as well as the American Pictorialist idiom within landscape photography championed by Alfred Stieglitz in the early 1900s. Consisting of about 50 color pigment print photographs produced in 2012 and 2013, the series charts several new developments—as well as some stunning departures—in her practice.
Drawing on people close to her, including a number of other artists as well as family members, Opie has posed her figures against a black drop cloth, using highly theatrical lighting, color, and scale. The erasure of any background field renders the faces and the bodies of the subjects in extraordinarily intimate detail, simultaneously capturing their unique character while often suggesting allegorical dimensions. The works range in scale and include portraits of renowned visual artists (Kara Walker, Matthew Barney, John Baldessari, Glenn Ligon) and performers (Elizabeth Streb, Ron Athey, Miranda July), as well as athletes (Diana Nyad) and notable critics and writers (Hamza Walker, Hilton Als, Jonathan Franzen). Opie’s work in portraiture, acclaimed for over two decades, has often focused on communities to which she belongs, and the 40 portraits included in this latest series sustain that commitment. As she says of them, “They are friends and people that I admire.”
Interspersed with these commanding portraits are landscapes virtually abstract in their lack of detail. Unlike Opie’s previous work in landscape portraiture (such as her studies of American cities and of ice-fishing cabins), which strongly articulated a sense of specific space, the new photographs defy any recognition of their geographical location. As Opie has noted, “Nature is a dream state at this point….I’m asking people to go back to the sublime and to a place of beauty.” The exhibition is curated by Bill Horrigan, Wexner Center curator at large.
Born in 1961, Catherine Opie has been the subject of numerous exhibitions both here and abroad, including a mid-career survey at the Guggenheim Museum in 2008, and is in the collections of dozens of public institutions. Opie created new work for the Wexner Center’s presentation of Hard Targets (2010) and her work was featured solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2011) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2010). A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Opie has been Professor of Fine Art at UCLA since 2001.