Martin Art Gallery
October 3 – November 10, 2012
Beautiful People, curated by Muhlenberg art history professor Dr. Margo Thompson, explores how three very different artists—Andy Warhol, Muhsana Ali and Josh Lehrer— respond to the notion of beauty in photographic portraiture.
For Warhol, a pop-art icon of the late 20th century, wealth and fame were critical components and beauty was found on the surface. He said, “If you want to know about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings, my films, and me. There I am. There’s nothing behind it.”
Muhsana Ali and Josh Lehrer approach making portraits in a way that is surprisingly similar to Warhol: they represent, in a flattering light, individuals with whom they identify and empathize.
Ali’s subjects are African-American residents of the economically-challenged small town of Mart, Texas, near Waco. She worked with them to create a mosaic mural as part of a local revitalization endeavor, the Mart Community Project. The mural became the backdrop for some of the photographs featured in this show.
The residents of Mart and Ali were all interested in exploring and strengthening notions of community and identity. She facilitated this by providing contemporary garments from Senegal, where she lives. The “photo-performances” she stages of Mart residents wearing Senegalese clothing are transformative: her subjects’ experienced, she reports, “…another time, place, and identity; a sense of temporary self-empowerment and new-found dignity.”
Lehrer photographed homeless transgender teenagers from New York City, residents of a shelter at which he volunteers. Like Warhol, he used instant Polaroid technology, and began his sessions with multiple digital shots, going through hundreds of frames to capture his subjects running through their repertoire of poses. Only when the superficial poses had been exhausted did he bring out his vintage camera and capture what was behind the performative front. Lehrer located and revealed each person’s authentic self that is often hidden by a complex and sometimes troubled surface.
A reception to meet artists Muhsana Ali and Josh Lehrer will be held Wednesday, October 3, 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. in the Gallery. Ali will give a lecture immediately following, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. and Lehrer will give a gallery talk during Common Hour, Oct. 4, 12:30 – 1:30. The exhibition, reception, and programs are free and open to the public.
Gallery hours: Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon – 8:00 p.m., additional hours by appointment.
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