David and Peter McGough McDermott
McDermott and McGough David McDermott American, 1952-; and Peter McGough American, 1958- In their own words, David McDermott (born in Hollywood, California) and Peter McGough (born in Syracuse, New York) "would like to stop time . . . and make a world where all time exists simultaneously." In their cyanotype and palladium photographs, printed using antiquated processes, the duo achieve their aim by self-consciously selecting still-life subjects that harken back to 19th-century sources in order to comment on the future. Props such as antique sculptures, memento mori, and Victorianesque furniture are used to suggest the deterioration of the contemporary Western world by recreating the look of pre-modern times. Backdated to the time period they are meant to recall, the photographs are less re-creations of the past than ironic post-modern statements on the cyclical history of culture as evidenced by its material and visual remains. Both attended Syracuse University, although at different times (McDermott from 1970-74; McGough in 1976), and met in the early 1980s in New York City. Like the older collaborative team of British conceptual artists Gilbert and George, McDermott and McGough eradicate distinctions between their art and their lives. Furnishing their New York apartment in Victorian decor, eschewing electricity and telephones in favor of gas lamps, and wandering through SoHo sporting top hats and canes, the idiosyncratic duo has garnered both accolades and ridicule. As painters and photographers, McDermott and McGough have met with considerable success. Since 1986 they have had more than 11 solo exhibitions and have been included in two Whitney Biennials (1987, 1991). A.W.
Tina Barney American, 1945-
Tina Barney is best known for her large color photographs documenting the people, places, and events of her upper-class milieu. Using a 4 x 5-inch view camera and creating images with the scale and color saturation found in wide-screen television stills, Barney gives her everyday subjects the gloss of dramatic importance, transforming private scenes into public events. She has said of her work that "the idea of making the pictures big had to do with my love of detail, and feeling that every single object counts and is important."
In 1991 she collaborated with playwright Tina Howe on the publication Swimmers. For this project, Barney made photographs of a northeastern coastal town to accompany Howe's narrative about a family watching a daily ritual, the two-mile swim of a 74-year-old man. Barney has had one-person exhibitions at the Denver Art Museum (1989), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1990), and George Eastman House, Rochester (1990). She has also made documentary films about photographers Horst P. Horst (1988) and Jan Groover (1994).
Born in New York City, Barney studied photography at the Sun Valley Center for Arts and Humanities in Idaho (1976-79). She also took workshops with Robert Cumming, Nathan Lyons, Roger Mertin, Duane Michals, Joyce Neimenas, John Pfahl, and Frederick Sommer. She lives in New York and in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. A.W.
Lorna Simpson American, 1960- Lorna Simpson uses photography to invert cultural stereotypes about race, class, and gender by decoding and reordering visual and verbal languages. She began making traditional documentary photographs throughout the United States and Africa in the late 1970s. While in graduate school at the University of California, San Diego (M.F.A., 1985), Simpson began to question and challenge the objectivity of such images and to examine the ways in which these documents are generally perceived. Taking subjects from her own photographs and inserting them into stark backgrounds, she eliminated their contextual clues and instead juxtaposed her own texts and readings, often revealing racial and gender prejudices otherwise subsumed. In the mid-1980s, Simpson won international attention and critical acclaim for her series of large-scale black-and-white self-portraits. Photographing herself from the back, excluding her face and often juxtaposing the portrait with text and appropriated imagery, Simpson used her absence of self to comment on the exclusion of African Americans in history and culture. She continues to address these issues. Simpson (born in New York City) has received many awards and exhibited internationally. In 1990 she was the first African-American woman to be given a one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She has also been included in the Venice Biennale (1990) and the Whitney Biennial Exhibition (1991, 1993). Simpson lives in Brooklyn. A.W.
Sarah Charlesworth American, 1947-
Born in East Orange, New Jersey, Sarah E. Charlesworth is one of several artists-including Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, and Laurie Simmons-who use photography to address issues of representation, appropriation, commodification, and the revision of history. Charlesworth's iconography comes from nature, religion, and high and low culture and stimulates associations with philosophy, literature and literary theory, art history, psychoanalysis, gender studies, and personal experience. Her greatest influences were the artists Douglas Huebler, with whom she studied at Barnard College while pursuing a degree in art history, and Joseph Kosuth, whose writings in Art after Philosophy held particular appeal. Charlesworth and Kosuth were close companions throughout most of the 1970s, founding and writing for a short-lived art theory magazine titled The Fox (1975-76).
Charlesworth's interest in photography began at Barnard, where she submitted a 50-print study of the Guggenheim Museum in lieu of her senior thesis, despite threats of failure from her advisor. She graduated in 1969 with an honorable mention and for the next seven years worked as a freelance photographer, studying briefly with Lisette Model, who shared Charlesworth's interest in the occult and parapsychology. In 1977 she began a series titled Modern History that examined a series of news photos as a way of discovering their cultural use. Typically, she did not use the camera directly. Her interest in photography is not as a vehicle for presenting a personal vision, but a means to uncover, in her words, the "roots and complex structure" of the photographic language.
Since 1983 Charlesworth has concentrated on three major bodies of work: Objects of Desire, Of Myself, and The Academy of Secrets. In 1993 she began Natural Magic, a series for which she rephotographed her own images as part of an extended self-portrait that offers ironic commentary on her own successful reception into the market and history of art. Since 1995 she has moved from iconic collages to large Cibachrome images of still lifes in the mode of photography's earliest images. The work is titled Doubleworld.
Charlesworth has spoken on numerous panels with provocative thinkers such as Jean Baudrillard and has taught at New York University (1983-85), Hartford University and Hartford Art School (1994), and the School of the Visual Arts in New York (since 1992). Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1976, 1980, 1983) and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1995), and a New York Creative Artists Public Service Grant (1977). Charlesworth lives in New York. A.W.
Thomas Ruff German, 1958- Thomas Ruff is one of a generation of German photographers, including Thomas Struth, Alex Hütte, Andreas Gursky, and Candida Höfer, whose work bears the influence of Bernd Becher, their instructor at Düsseldorf's Kunstakademie. Like Becher, Ruff confronts the viewer with optically precise photographs and adheres to a systematic methodology for posing and lighting his subjects so that their significance is conceptual, rather than actual. Ruff's larger-than-life color portraits of ordinary middle-class men and women typify this approach. Working with a zoom lens, he poses his subjects, sans makeup, before stark backdrops, lighting them frontally to deliberately invite comparisons with photo-booth ID card portraits, although Ruff's photographs are often up to 10 feet in height. Aggrandizing individuality, while simultaneously systematizing it, he creates complex portraits that allude to issues of power and control, and in particular, to photography's place within those systems. Ruff's images have been published in German Art of the Late '80s: Binationale (1988), Portraits: Das Portrait in der Zeitgenossischen Photographie (1989), and Aus Der Distanz (1991). He lives in his native Düsseldorf. A.W.
Andres Serrano American, 1950- Andres Serrano, who believes that "there is no such thing as the sacred without the profane," draws from an iconography informed by the rituals and ideologies of his Catholic upbringing. His images often incorporate sacrosanct icons along with psychologically and morally charged substances such as blood, sperm, urine, and milk. The technically accomplished color photographs embalm the subjects in an aura of artifice, addressing the tension in late 20th-century America between spirituality and commercialism. Serrano (born in New York City) attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School (1967–69) and worked in an advertising firm before deciding in the early 1980s to enter full-time New York's politically charged art scene. Later in the decade, working under the auspices of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Serrano gained international attention as the target of attacks from politicians and religious leaders who took offense to his photograph Piss Christ (1987), which depicts a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine. The debate over the image's "blasphemous" nature epitomized the virulent relationship between conservatives and politically active artists during a period fraught with contentions that continue to the present day regarding definitions of art and pornography and the dispensation of federal arts funding. Serrano continues to examine charged subject matter. His series include KKK Portraits (1991), Morgue (1992), and Objects of Desire (1994-95). In addition to his controversial nea fellowship, Serrano has garnered awards from the National Studio Program at P.S. 1 (1985), the New York Foundation for the Arts (1987), the Cintas Foundation (1989), and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation (1989). In 1995 the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, organized Andres Serrano: Works 1983-1993, a mid-career traveling survey. Serrano lives in Brooklyn. A.W.
Jeff Wall Canadian, 1946-
Jeff Wall (born in Vancouver, British Columbia) received critical acclaim in the late 1970s for his signature light-box vignettes, colorful staged scenes that comment on the negative effects of capitalism in late 20th-century society. Trained as an art historian at the University of British Columbia and the Courtauld Institute in London, Wall relies on his academic background, especially its emphasis on Marxist theory, to inform the work he creates.
For his earliest images, Wall produced ironic horror stills. Fabricating large stage sets controlled by studio lighting, he introduced benumbed, lifeless models engaged in, or watching, violent and disturbing scenarios. The traditional stage settings combined with the glossy displays of advertising offer pessimistic visions of a culture made insensitive to aggression, destruction, and death. This theme of death-in-life has become a stylistic trademark in Wall's work, along with his interest in the violent passion that is common to our age of what he terms "modern, bourgeois, neurotic private life."
Wall has continued to explore these ideas with the additional aid of computer manipulation. Widely shown, his work has been included in Directions 1981, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (1981), documenta 7, the Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (1982), and Passage de l'image, the Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1991). Wall lives in Vancouver. A.W.
Alfredo Jaar Chilean, 1956- Born in Santiago, Alfredo Jaar is recognized for his conceptual and political investigations of documentary images and their cultural reception and/or repression. Before moving to New York in 1982, he received degrees in filmmaking from the Instituto Chileno Norteamericano de Cultura (1979) and in architecture from the Universidad de Chile, Santiago (1981). His installations often combine his photographs with maps or texts. Although many of his images are from developing countries, they refer not simply to topical issues of poverty or oppression, but instead evoke broader themes of the human condition. His conflation of life's reality and romanticism suggests that art may offer some transcendence over tyranny. Jaar's work has been widely exhibited, including one-person shows at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art (1990) and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1992). Among his awards are fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1985) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1987). He lives in New York. A.W.
James Welling American, 1951-
James Welling first became known for his project Diary of Elizabeth C. Dixon, 1840-41 (1822-72)/Connecticut Landscapes (1977-86). As the title suggests, Welling took for his subject a young woman's 19th-century travel diary, making intimate closeup photographs of pages filled with handwritten script, desiccated leaves, ferns, and other mementos. This retrospective use of photography, as a means to invoke the past by providing an allegorical distance in the present, characterizes his approach to the medium.
Irony and humor are also common elements of Welling's photographs. For a series begun in the early 1980s, he made small black-and-white images that suggested the jewel-like physicality and believability of a daguerreotype. Upon closer inspection, the works revealed themselves to be nothing more than crumpled aluminum. The visual pun, when realized, prompted viewers to recall the tradition of landscape photography and simultaneously retain a distance from the subjects. His Railroad Photographs (1986-91) and Architectural Photographs (1988-90) invite similar examinations of photography's technical preconditions for representation of space as they are rooted in Renaissance perspectival traditions.
Welling (born in Hartford) studied at Carnegie-Mellon University (1969-71) and received a B.F.A./M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts (1974). He has numerous publications and has exhibited throughout the United States and Europe. Welling lives in New York. A.W.
Frank Majore American, 1948-
Frank Majore achieved recognition in the 1980s, one of several artists who use photography to question issues of representation, commodification, and mediated experience as it has supplanted direct interaction in late 20th-century society. He draws upon a commercial vocabulary acquired as an art director, putting a sleek, seductive gloss on his photographs as a way to mimic the aesthetics of popular advertising.
Throughout most of the 1980s, Majore made "commodity fetishes": Cibachromes depicting revolving lipsticks, closeup views of faces appropriated from television, glistening golf balls, and skyscrapers printed against exaggerated blue-violet hues. In 1990 he began to work in black and white, extending his subjects to include landscape and abstract imagery. This more monochromatic work reflects an interest with ethereal, symbolic subjects such as clouds, stars, and light. "There are only three things worthy of making art about," Majore has said, "sex, death, and beauty."
Majore (born in Richmond Hill, New York) studied at the Philadelphia College of Art (B.S., 1969) and is a self-taught photographer. His awards include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts (1985) and the Aaron Siskind Foundation (1993) and a Tiffany Award from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation (1993). He lives in New York. A.W.
Joel-Peter Witkin American, 1939-
According to Joel-Peter Witkin, his provocative, often horrific imagery "reflects the insanity of life." Drawing from his Catholic upbringing, paragons of Western art, the history of photography, and his own life experience, Witkin uses iconography, including physically abnormal persons, those with nonstandard sexual persuasions, and remains of corpses posed in disturbing tableaux, that is at once beautiful and demonic, perverse and profound. While many of his subjects represent the deepest, and often ugliest, aspects of human nature, he realizes "a form of beauty" in everything. Beneath their sumptuous surfaces, printed to technical perfection, Witkin's photographs touch on taboos that are at times little more than curiosities; at others, unavoidably seductive. "Art to me," he says of the process, "is a condition of being, of spirit, that is presented so strongly and convincingly that it's held together by an ethos of physicality."
Witkin (born in New York City) served as a combat photographer for the U.S. Army from 1961-64. He attended Cooper Union in New York (B.F.A. in sculpture, 1974) and the University of New Mexico (M.F.A. in photography, 1986). He has received grants from the New York Creative Artists Public Service (1974), the Ford Foundation (1977), the National Endowment for the Arts (1981, 1986, 1992), Art Matters (1986), and the Chevalier des arts et des lettres (1990). His work has been shown in one-person exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1985), the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (1986), the Kunstverein, Frankfurt (1988), the Museum of Modern Art, Haifa (1991), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1996). He lives in Albuquerque. A.W.