January 22, 2015

The weather softened as I traversed Dundas Square and crowds spilled out of the Eaton Centre to mill about aimlessly in the late afternoon light. Rounding the corner, the approach to the Ryerson Image Centre has a gloomy, underpass feel and the clatter of hockey sticks and shouted taunts echoes up and down Gould Street.

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Ryerson Image Centre

Even in the vestibule area of the Ryerson Image Centre glamour is front and center.  The Salah J. Bachir Media Wall continuously plays a loop of thirteen vignettes by Alex Prager.  The piece, commissioned by The New York Times Magazine and called A Touch of Evil, is all high production values and top shelf Hollywood talent as Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, George Clooney, Mara Rooney, Mia Wasikowski and others get all campy, ironic and self-referentially post modern to portray peak Noire moments. It’s kind of fun to take in the special effects, lavish colour and tension enducing music, like watching movie trailers or some patische put together for Oscar night, but I couldn’t help feeling that I’m tired of celebrities and their faces.

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Stills from Alex Prager piece, A Touch of Evil

The world is the playpen of this gang of mega stars and now it seems they have insinuated themselves into every aspect of life; even romping into the art world with a knowing wink. (I wish Tilda Swinton would stop doing performance art too.)

Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour

Thinking about the fire theme I recalled the Is Toronto Burning? show which opened in September of this year at the Art Gallery of York University.  Whereas the York show, curated by Philip Monk, examined an intense period in the creative history of this city, the show at Ryerson Image Centre, curated by Gaëlle Morel, is a longing gaze mostly at Hollywood.

We all know the lovely goddesses of the past, with arched spines and eyebrows captured in satiny black and white,  especially Marilyn Monroe.  In this show there is definitely a surfeit of Marilyn pictures and yet somehow, new angles and unfamiliar expressions are revealed.  How is that possible when the woman’s image is available in every cut-rate t-shirt shop on Yonge Street?

Manfred Linus

Manfred Linus, Untitled [Marilyn Monroe], date and location unknown. BS.2005.190119/113-1226. The Black Star Collection, Ryerson Image Centre.

We also see Brigette, Sofia, Natalie, Gloria and others, all swanning about in the glory of mid century USA.  (Below is an incendiary Ava Gardner.)

Ava

Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour (installation view), 2015 © Eugen Sakhnenko, Ryerson Image Centre

Vanity Fair’s celebrated pull-out covers by Annie Liebovitz work the time-tested glamour signals.  With only minor adjustments to old Hollywood style the images capture throngs of interchangeable starlets with bare shoulders, limpid expressions and more satin.
Annie
Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour (installation view), 2015 © Eugen Sakhnenko, Ryerson Image Centre

The show gets more interesting and the understanding of glamour broadens with the inclusion of a bit of authentic counter culture from the late sixties. The Kenneth Anger film Puce Moment is totally loopy and delightful.  (Click on the link to view it on Vimeo.)

Puce Moment

Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour (installation view), 2015 © Eugen Sakhnenko, Ryerson Image Centre

There is also a hilarious Richard Avedon film from 1973, actually an ad for a Japanese Fragrance, in which Lauren Hutton, Anjelica Huston. Jean Shrimpton and Avedon himself send up the whole glamour enterprise.  The short piece, which predates MTV by about ten years, has a frothy, giddy excitement to it that might be impossible to achieve in this more cynical era.

The giant colour portraits of black women by Mickalene Thomas add gravitas to the exhibition.  One of the few that are not actual celebrities, the image below depicts an utterly self-absorbed beauty, shimmering and adorned and posed for maximum impact in a kind of trance of narcissism.

Mickalene

Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour (installation view), 2015 © Eugen Sakhnenko, Ryerson Image Centre


There is picture of Kim Kardashian in the exhibition; nude shots with Barbara Kruger’s trademark red and black bands of confrontational texts strategically placed.  What occurred to me was the following: Why do I know so much about Kim Kardashian?  I have never watched her reality tv show nor really read anything about her and yet…and yet I possess numerous facts and impressions about the woman.  Was it like this when Marilyn was ascendent?  What about the future?   Will the Google glass have a filter?

Author: ssnbrttn

This blog is all about looking at art in Toronto now.

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