New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Catherine Opie
Girlfriends
Chandra Glick
Catherine Opie

Gladstone Gallery presents a collection of female portraits by Catherine Opie that comes as a timely follow up to her Guggenheim survey of 2008-2009. The integration of new and archival images (sometimes of the same subjects over time) illustrates the depth of her dedication to capturing women, sexuality and subcultures with generosity. Her longstanding commitment to documenting her gay and transgender friends and relationships gave permission to a generation of photographers. (Just take at look at Select Gender at Farmani Gallery in Dumbo.) In the future, the challenge for Opie is to surpass herself and her progeny.

Unfortunately, this exhibition comes across as a group of works that didn’t quite make the first cut or maybe could generate some sales. Several portraits are positively arresting, but overall, the show fail to coalesce. Opie uses too many disparate approaches and aesthetics. A ruthless edit or re-hanging in a series of smaller spaces would do wonders to emphasize her strengths.

In one room, 10x10 inch black and white prints do successfully unify even though they are a mix of confrontational images and safer, elegant body details. The other two rooms show medium-scale color prints that are technically somewhat inconsistent. The sequence is a syncopated rhythm of colorful studio shots, environmental portraits and pastoral scenes reminiscent of Katy Grannan. Each stylistic group is strong, but the disparity dilutes the power of the others. It’s hard to take in the stunning idyllic woman on a hillside when it juxtaposes a studio portrait with giant catch-lights in the eyes.

 by unidentified photographer.
Catherine Opie, Jennie (Bed), 2009

Where Opie really shines is when she enlists her subject’s gaze . She forces the viewer to stand in the place of the photographer to create almost visceral eye contact. In Jenny (Bed) a woman in leather pants and boots lounges on a pure white bed that extends to the foreground. She stares at us calmly but directly. Her confidence is as strong as the sunny illumination of the scene.

For those interested in following Opie’s development, Girlfriends is an essential show. Opie has expanded her photographic community to include recognizable lesbians such as KD Lang and actors from The L Word and a notable softness is emerging in her work. While this exhibit may not represent the highlight of her career, it is certainly worth seeing if only to appreciate how Opie continues to sustain her gaze.

Catherine Opie
Girlfriends


Gladstone Gallery
515 W 24th St.
Chelsea         Map

212 206 9300
gladstonegallery.com

Friday, March 19 to
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Hours: Tues-Sat, 10 to 6
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