Posts Tagged ‘jack pierson’

Jack Pierson – Broken debris of glamour

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Frieze Magazine | Archive | Archive | Jack Pierson.

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Cluttered with the broken debris of glamour, the universe of Jack Pierson is one in which personal and collective dreams are always incomplete. His recent exhibition was fitted out with such alluring fragments spanning more than a decade, from shattered text pieces to an installation of collected ephemera. Room keys hanging on the pegboard of a vacant motel, plastic letters on two oracular diner menus reading ‘Breakfast: Hope’ and ‘Dinner: Fear’ – through these fits and starts of evocation Pierson’s work describes big dreams underscored by even bigger disappointments. Although it traverses a shared set of American fantasies, its final emphasis rests on sentiments of loneliness and psychological isolation.

Pierson’s art is built on reference and counter-reference. The allusions forming his world are familiar enough: Diana Ross and the Yellow Brick Road, Vegas motels, empty corridors and Marilyn Monroe. The cultural and even emotional landscape suggested by his work is instantly recognizable as one of tawdry glitz and glamour, melancholy and nostalgia. There is an ethos of specificity involved here; every object, whether a book or a photograph or a single scrap of newspaper, carries with it a culturally conditioned sense of significance. In this aspect his work is deeply set into its chosen context and historical period. Nonetheless, individual pieces seem designed to function as a rebuttal of context. A single unidentified page from Joan Didion’s seminal collection of essays The White Album (1979) floats in a white frame; elsewhere a spread of pages clipped from a Diane Arbus monograph reads as blank space, with images removed and only captions remaining. In these works Pierson seems preoccupied with isolating iconic artefacts of culture and stripping back their acknowledged meaning.

The specific quality of Pierson’s work lies in the contradiction between these two impulses, between the overproduction of allusion on the one hand and its near obfuscation on the other. Deftly playing with notions of meaning and interpretation, it hinges on the simultaneous evocation and denial of context. The fragmentary elements that constitute his work are never restored, and their meaning never wholly fixed. In Pierson’s world dreams perennially elude their context and interpretation, and it is for this reason that they are so haunting.

That question of allusion and subversion of reference is closely linked to Pierson’s use of cliché. The sentiments aroused by his work arrive to us cloaked in trite and formulaic language. In many ways Pierson’s art draws its vibrancy from that vocabulary’s persuasive power – from its universality, its emotional efficacy and its sometimes over-determined naivety. At the same time he signals the fundamental paradox of cliché: for all its potential richness of signification it remains simultaneously hollow and unyielding. Certainly there is an element of insistent flatness in Pierson’s work. I (Cracked) (1990) features a gilded capital letter ‘I’, shattered but still intact; similarly the photographic work A Million Dollars (1992) simply features a literal representation of its title.

If Pierson is able to manipulate tired clichés with such skill, it may be because he manages to integrate an ironic self-referentiality into the very world he evokes; a distance that is itself a part of the language of camp. However, the most persuasive exhibits here were those that collapsed his cagily maintained distance, integrating expressions of pathos and, at times, something approaching despair. In the best cases, as in the ‘Yellow Brick Road’ pieces, Pierson even managed to revitalize the power of sentimentality. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Part II (1990), a segment of ‘pavement’ composed of individually inscribed yellow soap bars, communicates a strong sense of loss even as it remains embedded within a particular set of camp references to Judy Garland, mus-icals, fantasy and the glamour of Hollywood. The brick-like soap bars engraved with the names of friends and strangers resolve into the familiar form of the magical yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz (1939) and the later Diana Ross disco remake The Wiz (1978), but not without subverting their associations. Pierson’s road leads nowhere; it provides neither hope nor solace. It is in this multi-tiered fashion that his work exceeds the limitations of camp knowingness and referential smarminess, reaching a sustained pitch of emotional power. These may be fragments, but it is as bits and pieces that they achieve their total meaning – as the remains of times past.

Katie Kitamura

Jack Pierson – Self-Portrait as Obscure Object of Desire

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Self-Portrait as Obscure Object of Desire; Jack Pierson’s Autobiography, of Sorts, in Photographs of Unidentified Men – New York Times.

 Jack Pierson, Self Portrait #19

A new book of photographs by Jack Pierson features 15 images of beautiful men, arranged to suggest the arc of a lifetime — beginning with a young boy and progressing to old age with men in various stages of undress. There’s nothing surprising about that; Mr. Pierson has been photographing beautiful naked men for years. In this case, though, the photographs are offered under the title ”Self Portrait.” But none of the images is of the artist himself.

Mr. Pierson has fashioned an autobiography from a collection of images of unidentified men. His photographs affect the casual look of a vacation snapshot, one you might expect to find clipped to a page of a personal diary. Often there is an implicit, offhand eroticism to his pictures of men, as if something sexual is in the cards, or might have just taken place.

While there is a canny intimacy to these new pictures, languorously attuned to the temporal glamour of ordinary moments, the subject of this self-portrait series is desire — when it begins, how long it lasts, what it tells us about ourselves or, at least, about the artist.

Mr. Pierson is part of a group of photographers known as the Boston School — David Armstrong, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Nan Goldin and Mark Morrisroe, among others. All of them knew one another in the early 1980′s and photographed their immediate circle of friends in situations that were, or appeared to be, casual or intimate. Mr. Pierson was often the subject of Mr. Morrisroe’s photographs, and the object of Mr. Morrisroe’s desire. The photographs in this self-portrait series take their cue from the template of pictures of the artist taken 20 years ago. In an attempt to establish a mythology of self, Mr. Pierson is presenting new photographs of other men in the manner of his own portrait, claiming their appearance to represent his own identity. The book is published by the Cheim & Read gallery in Chelsea, where the exhibition ”Jack Pierson,” featuring other works of his, runs through Jan. 3.

”Self Portrait” is the flip side of what Cindy Sherman accomplished in her series ”Untitled Film Stills.” Dressing up to enact a wide variety of female archetypes, Ms. Sherman photographed herself in fictional scenes alluding to Hollywood films. That body of work expresses an idea about the way identity is formed by the cultural forces all around us; yet, despite Ms. Sherman’s insistence that her ”film stills” are not self-portraits, the series flirts with the very idea of identity and self-portraiture. Mr. Pierson, by eliminating his own likeness from his ”Self Portrait,” comments on the same postmodern idea about the cultural construction of the individual, but in this case the work suggests that assumed identities both define and obscure the individual in society.

The idea of the constructed identity is nothing new. In an age of cosmetic surgery and on-line communication, it’s easy to customize our appearance or hide behind an invented persona. How often do we look at a picture in a magazine and imagine ourselves with that haircut, in those sunglasses, on that beach? No matter how strong our own sense of who we are, the lust for some idealized version of ourselves is invariably summoned in the barrage of images endlessly flashing before us. Mr. Pierson’s self-portrait series attests to this, underscoring at its core his own erotic impulse to be as desirable as those he desires, to become the very object of his own attraction.

In naming his pictures of others ”Self Portrait,” Mr. Pierson also owes a nod to the Dada legacy of provocation. The catalog of ”The First Papers of Surrealism,” a 1942 group exhibition in New York organized by Marcel Duchamp and André Breton, used the self-portrait as a symbolic equivalent in photographs and drawings of completely unrelated or unknown people. Titled with the names of the participating artists, these ”ready made” portraits, or found faces, took on new meaning in place of other expected identities.

Jack Pierson - Self Portrait #16 - 2003 - stmpa ai pigmenti - cm 134x109,2 - ed. di 7 - courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

In an essay for a show of portraits at PaceWildenstein Gallery in 1976, Kirk Varnedoe wrote, ”If, in the extremes of modern portraiture, the artist sees the other almost wholly as himself, so in the self-portrait he often sees himself as somebody, or something, irrevocably ‘other.’ ”

Portraiture has always revealed as much about the artist as the subject. If you think about the difference between portraits by Richard Avedon and Robert Mapplethorpe, each photographer has a signature style. Remove the names of their subjects and you’re left with a collection of portraits that become as much a self-portrait as the artist’s own likeness. In effect, Mr. Pierson has taken that idea one step further by omitting the names of his subjects, assuming their identities and calling his collection ”Self Portrait.”

Picasso, unsatisfied with the face of his portrait of Gertrude Stein after 80 sittings, painted one based on a mask of an Iberian sculpture. When people protested that the portrait did not resemble the subject, he is said to have commented: ”Everybody thinks she is not at all like her portrait, but never mind. In the end, she will manage to look just like it.”

By PHILIP GEFTER
Published: December 18, 2003

Through The Lens

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010