FAMOUS FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES AT THE ORANGE COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

FIFTEEN MINUTES OF FAME.

PORTRAITS FROM ANSEL ADAMS TO ANDY WARHOL

Orange Country Museum of Art

Newport Beach

May 2 – September 19, 2010

“In the future,” Andy Warhol predicted, ‘everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

Then a few years later he said, “I’m bored with that line.  I never use it anymore.  My new line is “in fifteen minutes everybody will be famous.”

It is rare that prophecies come true with such a vengeance.  In the Twenty-first century, “fame” is surveillance. Under the watchful eye of CCTV, we are all famous all the time.  We stop at the red light, mindful of the camera perched above, staring down at us, we walk in and out of a department store, watching ourselves on the television screen overhead, we enter a bank and we are seen.  We are all treated as criminals and potential terrorists.  If being famous means being photographed, at any given moment every day, we are famous.  The goal of the exhibition at the Orange County Museum is not to investigate what photography means after September 11th, but to look at the connection between fame and photography.  We, the common people, “know” famous people through photographs.  Andy Warhol, the original modern voyeur, photographed every person who entered the Factory.  According to legend, he asked all the men to drop their trousers for the Polaroid camera.  Some of these images became the basis of his silkscreened portraits of the rich and famous.   Although there is little of Warhol’s actual art in this exhibition, some of these Polaroids are on view, and  his spirit hangs over the proceedings.  Warhol, himself, was supremely uninterested in ordinary people, and tellingly, the curator, Karen Moss has also kept within the confines of the museum’s collection of famous photographs made by famous photographers.

The exhibition features many old friends, such as Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange, interspersed with a few rarely seen gems, namely Margaret Bourke-White’s portrait of Stalin’s mother and world-famous images, such as Korda’s hagiographic portrait of Che.  Although much smaller that LACMA’s recent show of Vanity Fair portraits, this show elicits the same pleasure of recognition at the sight of Einstein, by Johann Hagemeyer, or the very young artists, Betye Saar, Charles Arnoldi and Larry Bell by Arnold Chain.  Moss stretches the word “portrait,” from a faceless abstracted nude by Weston to the nameless women stalked by Garry Winnogrand and includes Harry Callahan’s iconic “Eleanor,” his muse and wife.  Also included, perhaps more under the sobriquet “famous,” is a selection from Larry Clark’s hard-to-look-at Tulsa, and a group of John Coplans’ studies of his crumpled hoary body. Indeed the whole exhibition juxtaposes the anonymous with the well-known and illustrate how the unnamed subject of the camera lens can become “famous.”  We would recognize Clark’s drug addicts anywhere and we know Winnogrand’s laughing woman with the ice cream cone as an old friend.

Far and away the greatest delight of the exhibition is a group of celebrity portraits by movie star photographer, Lawrence Schiller. Schiller’s trick photograph of Tippi Hedren is the leitmotif of the show. Hedren, Alfred Hitchcock’s successor to Grace Kelly, was his idea cold-hot blond.  Schiller posed Hedren, blond hair blowing in the wind, driving her Ford convertible down the wide-open highway.  And just as he popped up in all his movies, there is Alfred Hitchcock, round face framed in the rear view mirror.   On the same wall of photographs, “the man with no name,” Clint Eastwood squints and grips his cigar between this teeth, a young and beautiful Barbra Streisand is profiled near a Schiele drawing, “Butch and Sundance,” aka the late Paul Newman and environmental activist Robert Redford, pose in sepia. But most touching of all are Schiller’ inspired photographs of a luminous Marilyn Monroe, taken a few months before her death on the set of a film she would never finish, Let’s Make Love.  These are some of the best photographs ever taken of Marilyn, capturing her at her zenith, before the lights went out.  Glowing in the dark, bathed in artificial light,  the screen goddess splashes about in a swimming pool, a doomed and radiant mermaid, famous forever.

Dr.  Jeanne S. M. Willette

The Arts Blogger

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