“Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin: Pretty Much Everything” at the Dallas Contemporary

“Anja Rubik Descending a Staircase, Vogue Paris,” 2005. Courtesy the artists and Gagosian Gallery, New York

When I walked into the Dallas Contemporary for Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin’s solo exhibition, Pretty Much Everything, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect, but as an art lover who also loves fashion and pop culture I knew I had to attend. I had, of course, perused the images included in the press materials but as someone trained by art historians who are constantly wary of any exhibition that may “pander to the masses” (silly I know) I went in expecting the show to either be too tame or overly controversial. Fortunately, I was proven completely wrong. Pretty Much Everything manages a balance between beautiful portraiture and images that are much darker with a twisted sense of humor.

Van Lamsweerde and Matadin are a Dutch fashion photography duo who have worked together since 1986 and are regular contributors to Vogue Paris, Purple Magazine, W Magazine and V Magazine, among others. The duo has created numerous advertising campaigns for luxury fashion and fragrance brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Gucci, Chloe, Nina Ricci, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Chanel and Roberto Cavalli. Van Lamsweerde and Matadin are frequently described as the best fashion photographers in the world, and have managed to transcend the fashion photography genre and move into fine art.

Clint Eastwood, New York Times Magazine, 2005. Image from www.inezandvinoodh.com

Of the portraits and fashion shots from the exhibition, one of my favorite pieces was Clint Eastwood (2005), originally printed in the New York Times Magazine. In this beautiful black-and-white, the right half of the image is engulfed in plumes of white fog, with Eastwood’s face just barely breaking through.  Here, Eastwood is captured as the myth and legend that he is.

Besides the shot of Eastwood, there are plenty of other gorgeous photographs of a plethora of famous celebrities and models from Gisele Bündchen, Lady Gaga and Ke$ha to Carla Bruni, Javier Bardem and Sophia Loren.

Sophia Loren, Pirelli Calendar, 2007. Image from www.inezandvinoodh.com

Other images are equally as beautiful but much more subversive. Take, for example, Anja Rubik Descending a Staircase (2005). While one might not initially see anything but a model in an extravagant gown, the contrast of her body’s exposure with the purposeful and unceremonious concealment of her face creates an interesting dichotomy. Maybe this image points out the awkwardness in the creation of these scenes, or maybe it delves deeper into the commoditization of the female body in advertising.  The truth probably lies somewhere in between, but it is an interesting point for discussion.

Once you start noticing such minute and calculated imperfections, you begin to see them everywhere: models posing to look armless, legs splayed at awkward angles and heads visually decapitated by the image frame. It is very reminiscent of Degas’ stunning yet awkward ballerinas.

Then, there are the pieces that are much less subtle about their subversion. One photograph noted in the PR for the exhibition, Well Basically Basuco is Coke Mixed with Kerosene… – The Face (1994) is overtly masculine and filled with phallic imagery. Let’s face it, there really can be no mistaking the popsicle and rocket. However, this piece and others work so well because they are provocative without trying too hard to be controversial or incendiary. Nothing ruins an exhibition for me as quickly as feeling like I’m having someone’s agenda shoved in my face without a hint of ceremony.

Similarly, many of the videos included in the screening room had this same depth of imagery. In Elvis (2012) for Vogue Paris, a model is shown in classic Vegas scenes cavorting around with, and eventually marrying, an Elvis impersonator. Between Vegas, the fashion and Elvis, every shot is dripping with total excess while The Chantels croon “I Love You So” in the background, making the video nostalgic without being light or sweet. It is definitely a must-see, and my favorite of the videos shown.

In another video made for Nina Ricci’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection, a model in a long flowing dress is seen gracefully running, dancing and posing for the camera in what would normally be a very serene scene. However, the video continuously skips and stops, creating an almost strobe-like effect with the frames and, combined with the music, makes the video much more anxiety-ridden than the pure content would suggest. It is the classic scenario of dark mixed with light that makes this show worth seeing. It has something for the fans of pop culture and high fashion as well as those who are more interested in contemporary art than celebrities.

I spent about two hours wandering the galleries and watching the video screening (while taking notes), and had to rush to finish the exhibition, only able to see about two thirds of the videos. If you do decide to visit Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin’s Pretty Much Everything, make sure to give yourself ample time.

Pretty Much Everything
Dallas Contemporary
September 22 – December 30, 2012

also by Casey Stranahan

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