An Alternate Reality Check
The ASU Art Museum’s exhibition Performing for the Camera deserves an encore. The exhibition is a collection of large, glossy, striking photographs. This is no mere point-click-shoot scenario; these pictures are scenes, not snapshots of a moment in time. Every crisply displayed image is performance art at its finest. The splendor and exquisite precision of the images illustrates the same dedication and patience as a wildlife photographer entrenched in the jungle waiting for the perfect shot. However unlike the photographer who must ultimately rely on luck, the images in Performing for the Camera are the result of the artists’ talent and ingenuity. These artists have moved beyond the concept of the photographer and his camera as merely operator and tool. By expertly staging the captured image, these artists have used photography as a medium to construct alternate, imaginary worlds inhabited by the beautiful and bizarre.
Moving from one photograph to the next, the viewer will experience anything but the ordinary. Spencer Tunick’s work features hundreds of naked men and women, uniform in their nudity, distributed across the landscape. Individually and unclothed they seem strangely small, lost, and nondescript, but as a collective they form a striking human monument.
Charlie White’s work, titled Sherrie’s Living Room, toys with our sense of intimacy. White’s photograph mimics a scene common in every home. In a (Sherrie’s) living room a nude couple reclines on the couch, bathed in the warm glow of dim lamplight. He lies on his side brooding and dejected as she comforts him. She is an attractive brunette, he is a humanoid puppet. It is as creepy as it sounds. Looking at White’s work, the viewer can’t help but feel unease and revulsion. The familiarity of this interaction between couples, combined with our perception of the home as a place of privacy and comfort, allows White to create a distortion disturbing to some intrinsic value within us. One can also not help but feel an odd empathy for the puppet. Despite our discomfort, the puppet is just human enough to symbolize the insecurity and alienation equally as intrinsic to us.
Duane Michals’ Grandpa Goes to Heaven is one such piece. This series of slightly unfocused black and white photographs depicts a boy waiting patiently by his grandfather’s bedside. From one photograph to the next, the child’s grandfather, displaying what is unmistakably a pair of wings, rises from bed and waves good-bye to his grandson before departing out the window. In the final shot, the child leans out the window and waves after his grandfather.
The presentation makes the images feel like a half remembered dream one can only hope is true. The old man got to wish his grandson farewell before going to heaven, and the boy, not yet comprehending death, only knows his grandfather is now gone but happy. The child’s innocent acceptance of his grandfather’s quite unusual behavior invokes an odd mixture of hope and melancholia.
This is a story we all wish were true. Yet with age and experience we cannot believe in such a miraculous occurrence like the child can. Do yourself a favor and see it. We might be tired, stressed, and jaded, but seeing Grandpa Goes to Heaven evokes memories of childhood innocence at which we can’t help but smile (even if just a little).
Duane Michals’ Grandpa Goes to Heaven. Courtesy of Stéphane Janssen
– Karen Enters, Intern
Entry filed under: Art + Performance, Art Events, ASU Art Museum, ASU Art Museum Press, ASU Art Museum: Behind-the-scenes, People at ASU Art Museum, Uncategorized. Tags: AES+F, Aimeé García Marrero, Anthony Goicolea, Arizona State University, Arizona State University Art Museum, Arno Minkkinen, art, artist, artists, Artists at the Museum, ASU, ASU Art Museum, ASU School of Art, behind the scenes, Carrie Mae Weems, Charlie White, Cindy Sherman, community, curator, Dieter Appelt, Duane Michals, Ellen Kooi, events, exhibition, exhibitions, free, gallery, Gao Brothers, Grandpa Goes to Heaven, Gregory Crewdson, Heather Sealy Lineberry, Kimiko Yoshida., Kwong Chi Tseng, Liu Bolin, museum, non-profit, Oleg Kulik, Pepe Smit, performance, Performing for the Camera, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, photos, Pierre + Gilles, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, Sandy Skoglund, Sherrie's Living Room, Shirin Neshat, Spencer Tunick, Stéphane Janssen, Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler, Tracey Moffatt, Yasumasa Morimura, Zhang Huan.