in other words

#70 Investigating America with Artist Catherine Opie

by Charlotte Burns
Guest Catherine Opie. Photo by Charlotte Burns

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Tune in for this wide-ranging discussion with artist Catherine Opie, a tenured professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose internationally-exhibited art investigates the boom and bust of American life and the subtleties of human identity.

The artist—who famously carved the word “pervert” on her chest in 1994 as part of a work tackling the AIDS crisis and challenging ideas of deviancy—finds tenderness within stereotypes.

Opie discusses what it means to be radical today, and the importance of building communities that can bridge divisions within society, whether finding unity within museum boards or philosophy within the S&M community.

She talks to our host Charlotte Burns about her own success as an artist and her recognition of gender disparity within the art world, and the importance of representation. Opie tells us about her influences and talks about the shifting impact of social media on photography as an art form. She discusses her dream project and her optimism about the art world: “There’s shitty books, there’s shitty movies, there’s shitty art,” she says. “And then there’s all the pearls in-between that actually move people.”

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Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie (b. 1961, Sandusky, OH; lives in Los Angeles) is known for her powerfully dynamic photography that examines the ideals and norms surrounding the culturally constructed American dream and American identity. She first gained recognition in the 1990s for her series of studio portraits titled Being and Having, in which she photographed gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals drawn from her circle of friends and artists. Opie has traveled extensively across the country exploring the diversity of America’s communities and landscapes, documenting quintessential American subjects— high school football players and the 2008 presidential inauguration—while also continuing to display America’s subcultures through formal portraits. Using dramatic staging, Opie presents cross-dressers, same-sex couples, and tattooed, scarred, and pierced bodies in intimate photographs that evoke traditional Renaissance portraiture—images of power and respect. In her portraits and landscapes, Opie establishes a level of ambiguity—of identity and place—by exaggerating masculine or feminine characteristics, or by exaggerating the distance of the shot, cropping, or blurring her landscapes. Opie received a BFA from San Francisco Art Institute in 1985, and an MFA from CalArts in 1988.

Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at the Princeton University School of Architecture, Princeton, NJ (2018); Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo, Norway (2017); Nova Southeastern University Art Museum, Fort Lauderdale, FL (2017); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2016); Museum of Contemporary Art, Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles (2016); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2016); Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (2015); Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA (2012); Socrates Sculpture Park, New York (2012); and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2011). Select group exhibitions featuring her work include Kiss My Genders, Hayward Gallery, London (2019); Implicit Tensions: Maplethorpe Now, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (2019); West by Midwest, MCA Chicago, Chicago, IL (2018); Ansel Adams in Our Time, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2018); Selections from the Permanent Collection: Catherine Opie and Sterling Ruby, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2017); Breaking News, Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2016-2017); A Slow Succession with Many Interruptions, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA (2016-2017); Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016); America Is Hard to See, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015); and Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2015).

Opie’s work is in numerous international public and private collections, including The Broad, Los Angeles, CA; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; South London Gallery, London, United Kingdom; Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Opie has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Citibank Private Bank Emerging Artist Award, Washington University Freund Fellowship, CalArts Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, Larry Aldrich Award, San Francisco Art Institute President’s Award for Excellence, and United States Artist Fellowship. She has been a professor of fine art at UCLA since 2001 and serves on the board of directors of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the board of trustees of MOCA, Los Angeles.

Charlotte Burns

Executive editor of In Other Words
Charlotte Burns is the editor of In Other Words, our weekly newsletters and podcasts. She was previously the US news and market editor for The Art Newspaper, as well as a regular correspondent for publications such as the Guardian and Monocle. Previously, she worked with the London dealer Anthony d’Offay on special projects. For several years, she was a consultant at the cultural communications agency, Bolton & Quinn. She also worked at Hauser & Wirth in London.

Burns received a Masters degree (with Merit) from the Courtauld Institute in Art and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1890-1945, as well as a first-class B.A. honors degree in English and History of Art from Birmingham University. She moved to New York in 2010.

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