“This and That” is an occasional series of paired observations. -Ed.
This weekend the New York Times published an article questioning whether mug shots taken at the time of an arrest should be made public. There are good reasons both pro and con.
Interestingly, there are not many artists who’ve made art using mug shots, though of course more than a few appear in real mug shots from their arrests. True, the artist Ben Durham just had a show at Lora Reynolds Gallery of mug shot-inspired portraits, but Durham dances around his images’ gritty origins: you wouldn’t know these pretty drawings were mug shots necessarily without being told. And in 2015, the artist EJ Brown did a series of mug shot-inspired photographs of his friends wearing their graduation caps and gowns, as a commentary on racial profiling of African-American men.
A cursory round up of the usual suspects who might conceivably have made art using mug shots (Richard Prince, Raymond Pettibon) reveals nothing by those guys. I suspect few artists have made work from mug shots because it’s hard to beat Andy Warhol’s seminal 1964 series on the subject, Most Wanted Men.
The Queens Museum mounted an exhibition about this series in 2014, on its 50th anniversary:
50 years have passed since an up-and-coming Pop provocateur named Andy Warhol sparked a minor scandal at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. As part of a prominent set of public commissions for the Philip Johnson-designed New York State Pavilion’s exterior, Warhol chose to enlarge mug shots from a NYPD booklet featuring the 13 most wanted criminals of 1962. Forming a chessboard of front and profile views, 13 Most Wanted Men was installed by April 15, 1964, and painted over by Fair officials’ direction with silver paint a few days later. When the Fair opened to the public, all that was visible was a large silver square.
This photograph of the golfer Tiger Woods from his arrest last month for driving under the influence of painkillers inspired the New York Times article mentioned at the outset of this post. Whether one feels sympathy or schadenfreude for Woods, this image is a somber reminder that our country’s appalling epidemic of prescription drug addiction has no respect for wealth, celebrity or achievement — any more than our grisly fascination with mug shots does.
No matter how original, innovative or crazy your idea, someone else is also working on that idea. Furthermore, they are using notation very similar to yours. – Bruce J. MacLennan