Fame Fatale

This show takes the Babylon out of Hollywood Babylon, and the fun out of fame. Where are the paparazzi shots and the celebrity sleaze? We have John Wayne; what about John Wayne Bobbitt?

There are high points, though. The newsreel of George Bernard Shaw is a doozy. Preening and proud as a peacock, Shaw loves the camera, and is so delighted with himself, you will be too: it's like the birth of modern celebrity. Also captivating are the flickering clips of Charles Lindbergh standing before adoring throngs, and Annie Oakley in action. The picture of two boys looking into the open coffin of Babe Ruth is very Norman Rockwell-from-the-dark-side, and the eight stills tracking Joan Crawford from nascent starlet to Mommie Dearest are harrowing. And then there's the brand name Marilyn Monroe personal vibrator.

A personal high (or maybe low) came as I overheard a group of twentysomethings ask their escort about a man in a TV clip. "That's Johnny Carson," the woman replied. The kids stared blankly. "He's the old Jay Leno," she said.

Details

'Fame After Photography'
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
Through October 5

The sorriest section of the show is called "Artists' Response." This motley, supposedly deconstructive group (including Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, and Yasumasa Morimura) just falls flat. Luckily, by this point the crowd is looking for the exit.

Of course the patron saint of fame is Andy Warhol. Represented here in a Braniff Airlines ad, by his screen tests, a print of Jackie O., and 28 of his Polaroids, Warhol is the ghost in this exhibition's machine, and the fly in its ointment. In a sad attempt to glean some of St. Andy's aura, the curators (and MOMA by default) believe that simply to raise fame as a subject is enough to connect them to the godhead of it. "Andy didn't know what he started," a friend sighed, then added, "or maybe he did." This trinket of an exhibition makes us suspect that in the future everyone will want to be Andy Warhol for 15 minutes.

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