Friday, February 22, 2008
Portraits of artists, artists as personalities, celebrities, has been a staple of the mass media since the commercialization of photography in the 19th century. The celebrity image, in general, got its kick-start with the mass production of the carte-de-visite by A.A. Disderi: the size of a calling card, the image of whomever - king, clown, or anonymous citizen - could be collected & carried in intimacy. The illusion of intimacy with celebrity is its engine: it keeps us up with the number of shoes owned by Imelda Marcos, or the number of DUI charges against Paris Hilton. Such bright illusions entertain our waking hours.
Within this industrial madness there have also been some remarkable works - in the 19th century one could cite the very heroic & very publicity-conscious bohemian portraits by Nadar, or the painterly images of "Greats" by Julia Margaret Cameron. In the 20th century, extensive portfolios of artists portraits have been made by August Sander, Carl Van Vechten, Hans Namuth, David Douglas Duncan, Irving Penn, Rudy Burckhardt: this is a tiny list & by no means are the images related to one another than by subject. The artist can appear heroic or anti-heroic, extraordinary or common. The photographer can interpret a personality or stand back as a witness.
Albrecht Fuchs' portraits, currently on view at Mireille Mosler, are very discreet. Formally constructed, yet off-the-cuff, Fuchs does not construct any sheen of artistic persona: instead, considering how famous many of his subjects are (e.g. Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari), it is remarkable how intimate and cool his images are. One does not need to know who the subjects are to enjoy the image. & indeed Fuchs' images of unknown people (& not necessarily artists) are of the same stripe. There is no "revelation" of character, which in our time is a great relief, in the din of too much celebrity and fame. Fuchs' images show an intelligence in the encounter between the photographer & subject, without hierarchy. In the townhouse rooms of the gallery, painted bright white, the images float calmly on the walls. The back room of the gallery is devoted to images of Martin Kippenberger, an artist who certainly played with his image, as self & artist, extensively, in his own work. Fuchs photographed Kippenberger extensively in Dawson City, Yukon Territories, Canada, & in Germany. These were my favorites - if one needs to denote favorites - in that they are quite various, & in different settings. The majority of the images were for publication & did not require such a breadth of work. Albrecht Fuchs is available from Amazon & elsewhere. Fuchs' book of his Martin Kippenberger images, MK 95, is a bit harder to find, but it is in Schaden's catalogue.