Celebrities are instantly recognizable - or are they?
In this exhibition the viewer is challenged to identify who the celebrity is in the photograph. Some are readily known by hair, hands, clothing, and posture. Some others are not so easy. Perhaps that’s where the fun comes in, and perhaps the real person emerges.
Sometimes, the element of disguise or concealment is a collaboration between artist and subject and reveals just as much as it hides. Ellen von Unwerth’s photograph of Lady Gaga illustrates this. Elvis Presley’s gait, Roy Lichtenstein’s paintbrush, and Michael Jordan’s heroic stature are also represented in images by Alfred Wertheimer, Abe Frajndlich, and Herb Ritts. Each image tells us something about its subject while being far from the traditional portrait.
Many of the works in the exhibition also isolate the characteristics and gestures which identify icons of entertainment, politics, and art – from Louis Armstrong’s lips and Elizabeth Taylor’s diamonds, to Marlene Dietrich’s endless legs to the weight of history on Martin Luther King’s shoulders. If eyes are windows to the soul, then Peggy Sirota’s and Phil Stern’s photographs of Brad Pitt and James Dean embody this.
Some of these famous personalities are easily known by just a fraction of the face – or even just a silhouette. Some may be impossible to guess. Finding out the unguessable subject is also part of the fun.
WHO'S WHO is on view at Staley-Wise Gallery, May 5 - August 25, 2023. This group exhibition features works by Andre de Dienes, Alfred Wertheimer and Deborah Turbeville.
Image: Alfred Wertheimer, Elvis Presley, Army GI leaves for Germany on USS Randall, Brooklyn, NY, 1958