Since its inception in 1968, the Studio Museum in Harlem has been committed to the encouragement of young talent, including, for the past nine years, a photography program for selected high school students, who use the museum’s archive of James Van Der Zee’s 20th-century Harlem portraits for inspiration. In the confident black-and-white work of this year’s 12 participants, there’s less an emphasis on style than on notions of identity (a rather important topic for teenagers). Jordana Churchman’s moody compositions of introspective young men draw your eye to perspective lines to suggest a longing for a distant future. Hinting at Edward Weston’s nudes, Tiana Mincey gives the isolated contours of dark-skinned bodies, shot in high contrast against gray backgrounds, a sculptural but powerfully sensual presence. Loodjie Louisca, in the mode of Andy Goldsworthy, has photographed personal symbols made from arrangements of found objects, including a charming broken heart of woodchips and white powder. The brashest of the group, Aishah Abdullah, tackles slavery and racism in blunt images of black men in diapers, tied by rope, lying across the 13-star Betsy Ross flag. Coming closest to Van Der Zee’s tender approach is 15-year-old Kelsey Mills, who beautifully captures the essence of her grandfather, a veteran devoted to the Bible, in a series of somber, ethereally lit portraits. Savvy and imaginative, all 12 of these artists seem bound for professional accomplishments with the camera.
‘Collected: Propositions on the Permanent Collection’
The kiss of Judas, which revealed Jesus to Roman police in the garden of Gethsemane, has never looked so exotic (or erotic) as it does here, in Chris Ofili’s lovely spitbite aquatint prints—11 different views of the fateful moment as seen by the other apostles. In elegantly sinuous lines, reminiscent of those by Al Hirschfeld (with touches of Matisse’s spare grace), Ofili captures the varying interpretations suggested by the Gospels—a devil-made-me-do-it betrayal, complicity between Judas and Jesus, and, going beyond Scripture, degrees of increasingly dream-like passion, which culminate (no surprise for Ofili) in nudity and an erection.
The series, recently acquired by the Studio Museum, anchors one section of an exhibit highlighting the impressive permanent collection. Other gems, not often seen, are close by: Lloyd McNeill’s marvelous 1971 screen-print Blue-Man, whose jazzy displacements and distortions (elongated arms, exposed jagged ribs, a detached head wearing the era’s hippie hat) reflect the time McNeill spent with Picasso; Martin Puryear’s densely cross-hatched black capsule floating in yellow space (an etching that resembles a study for one of his well-known sculptures); William Villalongo’s Swingin’, a woodblock-like work of lines cut into black velour paper depicting a jungle fantasy, another of the artist’s wry comments on 1970s “soul kitsch”; and a haunting photograph, taken by the death-obsessed Touhami Ennadre, of a child’s body exhumed from the ancient ash of Mount Vesuvius—a shadowy image flattened by a wide-angle lens to give the silhouetted figure an eerie spectral presence. Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 W 125th St, 212-864-4500
The two kings of fashion photography and celebrity portraits, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, typically framed their subjects as exalted icons, but the lesser known Dan Wynn, equally comfortable among the stars, made his subjects more human. Wynn, who died in 1995 at age 75, was a salesman at heart (the exhibit focuses on his career in advertising during the ’50s and ’60s) and often emphasized context, whereas Penn and Avedon favored the blank background. Through Wynn’s lens, a young, smiling Joan Collins seems to admire the viewer as much as we do her legs, whose angles mirror those of the pool behind her, a symbol of the carefree life. He was meticulous with that kind of balance: On a Manhattan street, a woman’s curving body nearly duplicates the thin tree nearby, and in ads for Revlon, Suzy Parker (Wynn’s frequent model) holds a finger perpendicular to the lipstick, matching the alignment of shoulder and nose—high-culture refinement. The photographer’s eye was always on form. In the famous “I dreamed I was . . .” campaign for the Maidenform bra, Wynn posed his half-clothed models like dancers. Never distancing, his pictures frequently suggest an exacting pleasure. Farmani Gallery, 111 Front St, Brooklyn, 718-578-4478. Through August 14
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 28, 2009