New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 3 January 16 to 22, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

In Your Face
David LaChapelle
Still Life
John D. Roberts
Anonymous Politicians by David LaChapelle. Source: paulkasmingallery.com
David LaChapelle, "Anonymous Politicians" 2009-12

It is difficult upon entering the Paul Kasmin Gallery not to be overwhelmed. David LaChapelle's recent works hits the viewer like a punch in the face. Consisting of twenty-one images – each a massive 72 inches tall – the series was inspired by the artist's trip to the National Wax Museum in Dublin, Ireland, where he was permitted to photograph sculptures damaged by vandals in 2009. From there, he continued to shoot in wax museums in California and Nevada to complete the series.

Side by side are images of both Hollywood icons and major political figures from the 20th century, their faces wrought with decay and their bodies carefully manipulated for presentation. In a way the large prints almost seem to scream at one another, their size not stopping LaChapelle from maintaining heavy contrast and saturation within each frame. We feel as if we are too close to the images, the exquisite detail and textures transforming these once flawless faces into massive landscapes of flesh. Given the subjects contained here, their pop-art treatment as fodder for billboards and magazines seems to suit them – even in the state we find them in: transformed from social icons into cultural relics.

The artist subtly places these relics in a dusty attic by shooting every single one of them against the backdrop of a cardboard box. In this way the work becomes a history book of sorts: one suggested by LaChapelle's images, but ultimately written in the viewer's subconscious. Using an approach that juxtaposes expressionless, stoic faces with the carefully scattered limbs and digits, LaChapelle plays with emotional responses already attached to these powerful personalities. While the locked gaze of lifeless eyes grounds each image, the gestural nature of everything else in the frame produces the illusion of movement. The result is wonderfully dizzying.

Princess Diana by David LaChapelle. Source: paulkasmingallery.com
David LaChapelle, "Princess Diana" 2009-12

However, this careful arrangement of subjects serves a purpose greater than that of providing a visual experience – it shapes the way we remember them. Cameron Diaz is fragmented in a way that seems to trivialize her beauty as much as it admires it. Madonna looks like a Barbie doll whose arms have been ripped off. Ronald Reagan's fractured face is interrupted by his hand, suggesting he might be trying to cover his eyes. The bottom of George H. W. Bush's chin has been ripped off, leaving a grotesque, bleeding jaw, framed by two hands thrown up in surrender. Princess Diana lies in a make-shift coffin, wearing only a necklace, her detached arms folded across her chest, her body framed by the sides of the cardboard box. The experience is decidedly unsettling, beginning with confusion, then loss, and eventually acceptance.

It can surely be said that the work here is about the temporary nature of celebrity. It could also be considered a meditation on the fragility of the human experience. However, for me the work is most interesting when it brings to light the unreliable nature of memory and reminds us that when sorting through the remnants of a speckled past, we sometimes only half-recognize faces once unmistakable.

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This show is being presented in two spaces: 293 Tenth Avenue and 515 West 27th Street.

David LaChapelle
Still Life


Paul Kasmin Gallery
515 W 27th St.
Chelsea         Map

212 563 4474
paulkasmingallery.com

Tuesday, November 27 to
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Hours: Tues-Sun, 10 to 6
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