Best Picture: Movie stars, icons and archetypes in Paris

Best Picture, curated especially for Paris Photo, explores portraiture through appropriation and found art.

Sep 25, 2013 | Our Perspectives Archive

 
Lisa K. Erf
Director and Chief Curator, JPMorgan Chase Art Collection
Paris as the City of Light takes on new meaning every November as collectors, artists and gallery owners from around the globe gather for photography’s most prestigious art fair, Paris Photo.

With exhibits that span the earliest black and white, turn-of-the-century prints to contemporary digital color images, Paris Photo “provides a context for the many ways in which photography exists as an art form,” says Lisa K. Erf, Director and Chief Curator of the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection

A new context for the ordinary
As one of the official sponsors of Paris Photo, J.P. Morgan was invited to organize an exhibition again this year. “Our Best Picture exhibit,” explains Ms. Erf, “was inspired by Richard Prince’s photograph of three women looking in one direction. It’s a photograph that I love, as does almost everyone who sees it. It has something that’s very familiar but also a bit mysterious and enigmatic in its imaging.”

Richard Prince’s work is about appropriation, explains Ms. Erf. “It’s about taking images that already exist in a commercial context—for instance, the Marlboro Man or these three images of women, which appear to be from an ad campaign—and then rephotographing them and recontextualizing them, thereby creating a new sense of interpretation or meaning.”
 
Changing the face of portraiture
Once she had selected the Prince photograph, Ms. Erf began to think about works of portraiture in the firm’s collection that are also appropriated or found  images. “I think the theme of portraiture is something that people are very interested in—looking at others who are similar or different from us, and what you can tell about someone just by looking at their face.” 
 
With this as her guiding theme, Ms. Erf identified works by well-known artists that are somewhat atypical or unexpected. “That’s what we hope will really surprise and delight people,” says Ms. Erf, referencing Laurie Simmons’s series of 25 promotional cards of women ventriloquists as an example. This work of found art is a departure for Simmons, who is widely known for her staged photographs. “Simmons took these cards from the 1930s and 1940s, and presented them in a grid-like format. This allows the viewer to look at the same kind of images that are also very different from one another,” says Ms. Erf. 
 
Something completely new
Best Picture includes Andy Warhol’s iconic image of Marilyn Monroe and another study of beauty, The First & Second Beauty Composites by Nancy Burson, who is known for her work with computers and digital imagery. Ms. Burson created composite images of “some of the most beautiful gods and goddesses of the move star world” to compare the conception of beauty in the 1950s with that of the 1980s.  
 
“Ms. Burson will have one image that is a composite of all of these women, and when you see them all together, do you have something that’s hyper-beautiful, or does it in fact look a little strange and a little deformed? There’s something familiar in them, but when you take time, you break it down and you realize it’s something completely new.”
 
Best Picture is a way to zero in on the glamour and special nature of these artworks by contemporary masters. “What I loved in putting the show together is the idea of portraiture and how these artists are molding archetypes. Whether it’s the celebrity, the sports person, the tragic figure, they are looking at the portrait and the figure in new ways.”
 
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