A compilation of 18 selected and conflicting mentions of Lorraine O’Grady’s piece in the 2010 Whitney Biennial provides an opportunity to compare responses to The First and the Last of the Modernists and parse their differences. **** 1.“Lorraine O'Grady's stunning photo diptychs of Charles
Baudelaire with Michael Jackson restore MJ to majesty and the Bruce High Quality Foundation's 1960s style motion picture about the ambiguity of trying to love America, projected on the windshield of a white ambulance, has a depth of mournful feeling that wil make you weep.”
Charlie Finch, “A Room of One’s Own.” Review of the Whitney Biennial, Artnet.com, February 24, 2010.2. “You think, ‘What’s going on here?’ And that’s a question art should raise.
“At a certain point the curators seem to pose it, critically, about new art in general. In a fourth-floor gallery next to the one filled with abstract paintings they’ve placed a photographic piece by the conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady. Titled “The First and Last of the Modernists,” it pairs portraits of Charles Baudelaire (he looks like Charles Manson in one) and Michael Jackson, raising issues of race, class and the highly ambivalent nature of beauty that the new abstraction ignores.
“Ms. O’Grady’s work, with roots in the black art and feminist movements of the 1960s and ’70s, was overlooked until fairly recently, probably because it’s hard to pin down as far as meaning and attitude. And it makes sense that she shares space in the show with some category-dodging younger contemporaries, the five artists who make up the collective called the Bruce High Quality Foundation.”
Holland Cotter, “At a Biennial on a Budget, Tweaking and Provoking.” New York Times, February 25, 2010, p C21. 3. “While neither Lorraine O’Grady nor Ania Soliman might usually be considered a “photographer”, both are using the recontextualization of appropriated photographic imagery as the basis for the art included in this show. O’Grady’s works juxtapose found images of Charles Baudelaire and Michael Jackson in varying color tones, wryly commenting on the ups and downs of celebrity. Soliman layers a wide range of found images of pineapples into a photomontage alphabet stuck directly to the wall, merging text and photographs into a hybrid historical survey reminiscent of Dada collages. With these examples, it is clear that we have moved beyond the irony of simple appropriation/mashup and on to more complicated and conceptual combinations of images with social/political overtones.”DLK Collection, “Whitney Biennial 2010,” April 20, 2010. 4. “People–art’s favorite subject–are not beautiful in this exhibit. They are distorted and injured here.
“Stephanie Sinclair‘s gruesome photos show Afghani women who survived self-immolation. Lorraine O’Grady‘s portrait of Dorian Grey-like photos pair Charles Baudelaire and Michael Jackson as they age. Michael Jackson’s transformation from beautiful young African-American man to the whitened melting flesh of a white-woman-wanna-be is devastating. Baudelaire, for all his own issues, holds up a lot better over time. The themes of grotesque humanity come out in Storm Tharp’s drawings, Nina Berman’s family-album-like photos and Jessica Jackson Hutchins’ ceramic body parts on a sofa.”
Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof, The Artblog. By Libby, “Shiny penny no more—Whitney Biennial takes on the new America.” 5.
“What am I getting myself into?" I wondered as I approached the Whitney’s inverted facade. Having read a mixture of reviews of the show, some scathing and some packed with praise, I felt nervous. This was my first Biennial. Usually the shows I frequent center on a certain theme, context, time period, or artist. Here, though, I would only be seeing the “now” of the art world. . . .
“I had kept Baudelaire's The Painter of Modern Life in mind as a sort of lens by which to read what would be assembled to represent these last two years. I know that might seem like an irrelevant source, being published in 1863 and all, but I was soon to find out that one of the works shown was making similar use of Baudelaire’s modernity. Lorraine O’Grady’s The First and the Last of the Modernists is a series of diptychs consisting of paired photographs of Michael Jackson and Charles Baudelaire at similar ages and points in their careers. O’Grady’s series of paired portraits aims to guide us through each cultural figure’s journey, the height of their innovations in relation to modern culture, and the cost of these things on their personal lives. The champion of modernity was side by side with the king of pop and the feeling this gave me was quite an unsettling one.”
Amanda McCleod, “National Treasure: In Which It Only Happens Once Every Two Years.”6. “‘The First and Last of the Modernists’ encapsulates culture with four simple pictures of Baudelaire juxtaposed with Michael Jackson. The work makes a sweeping assumption about wealth, fame, and artistic ambition. I really like this kind of ballsy sweep, which according to the label copy, took sorting through thousands of Jackson images to match the scarce Baudelaire images O’Grady had on hand.”
Dan Boehl, “Armory, Volta, Biennial: The Best Things.” . . . might be good, issue 143, March 12, 2010.. . . .
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