Catherine Opie: Artist Portrait

Catherine Opie

Born 1961.
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Catherine Opie Biography

American photographer Catherine Opie has developed a significant and highly influential oeuvre in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Her photographs examine identity, queer culture and marginalized or ignored communities through the synthesis of deeply intimate or personal portraiture with an impressive range of art historical references.

Born in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1961, Opie was interested in photography from a young age; at the age of nine, she began photographing her family and neighborhood with a Kodak Instamatic camera. Later, she began studying art at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she received her BFA in 1985, before continuing her studies at the California Institute of Fine Arts, earning her MFA following the completion of her Masters thesis project, which focused on the development of communities in Valencia, California. Her portraits often starkly present sitters in richly ornamented environments, or before dark or solid backgrounds, focusing attention on the sitter in a theatrical manner akin to Baroque portraiture. Many of her portraits present underrepresented figures of the queer community, always with a commitment to steadfast visual honesty. Opie has also experimented with the trappings of cityscapes without the presence of humans; for example, her Freeways series depicts highways in the Los Angeles area that are barren of cars or people, while her Wall Street series considers the iconic financial district of New York while completely unpopulated. Her ongoing work today still continues to experiment with portraiture, and explore the nature of how identity is constructed.

Opie has received considerable accolades from critics and collectors, and has had significant exhibitions at major museums, including a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 2008, and another at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in 2011. She was awarded the 2009 President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2016 Archives of American Art Medal, and a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship. Her works can be found at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Brooklyn Museum, New York, and many other major museums and galleries. She is a tenured professor of photography at the University of California at Los Angeles, and serves on the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Andy Warhol Foundation.

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