Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Herb Ritts @Houk
Comments/Context: Imagine I was to draw a Venn diagram with three intersecting circles, and then label those circles: Celebrity, Fashion, and Nude. If we were then to brainstorm photographers who would best fit in the intersection of those three areas, I'm guessing that Herb Ritts would be either the first or at least one of the first names we might come up with. Ritts made a highly successful career out of mixing these three genres, developing a visual style that has been remarkably durable and popular, walking the knife edge of "classic" and "glamour" with surprising deftness.
If I am to be honest, I must admit that I am not a massive fan of the "glamour nude" as practiced (and perfected) by Ritts and others. Even though we are collectors of photographic nudes, and while I can certainly appreciate the quality of the prints and the beauty of the bodies, the sleek stylized perfection of these works crosses some invisible line for me, away from elegance and purity of form and toward something more glossy and artificial. For this reason, I think I was most drawn to some of the more anonymous nudes that have been unearthed in this show, where Ritts may have been exploring the contrast of dark and light or the interaction of line and form, but without having amped it up to that level of fabulousness that is his signature.
With this caveat, I came away from this show very much impressed with the consistency of Ritts' craft from image to image across the decades, as well as with a renewed interest in his compositional skill. If you step back into the middle of the gallery and look beyond the specific people and the embellished details of the stately polished bodies, many of his images resolve themselves into bold, simplified graphics, bringing back the formal refinement and proportion that I think underlies all great nudes. All in, I think this show forced me to look beyond the flashiness of Ritts that I have heretofore found a bit rich for my tastes, and to see more of the underlying talent that was being masked for me by the celebrity glamour.
My favorite image in the show was Christy Turlington, Versace 6, El Mirage, 1990; it's second from the right in the bottom installation shot. I liked the furry feathered texture of the dress, and the dark arch of her back.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Through June 25th
Edwynn Houk Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10151