"Once upon a time..."

Jeff Sheng

Katherine Taylor

 

February 15 - March 23, 2002

Opening Reception: Friday, February 15, 6 - 9 pm

Press en Espanol

Boston Globe review by Cate McQuaid

Green Street presents " Once upon a time...." an exhibit of photographs and paintings of a handsome prince and many beautiful queens. This exhibit creates a dialog about how good looks, fame and fortune are used to sell us "shortcuts" to success and happiness. Our fairy tale fantasies of falling in love, getting rich quick or being beautiful remind us that the answer to the question, "Who wants to marry a millionaire?" is almost always, "Who wouldn't?"

 

Katherine Taylor's work "Processional" creates an overwhelming installation of perfect smiles and sparkling crowns of 40 individual contestants in the "Miss Mississippi" beauty pageant. The two foot square works cover the entire length of the gallery's front wall. In "Casino," another group of paintings, she captures the reflections of dockside casinos that seem dreamlike in the glowing colored light and the rich surfaces of smaller, postcard-sized oil paintings.

Jeff Sheng uses the "punch" of clean, saturated color in his large Fujiflex C-prints to co-opt the commercial look of fashion and advertising images of "beautiful people" that represent "idealized beauty" for our youth-loving culture. Fantasy, image and illusion become intertwined in this glossy world of exhibitionism.

The personal connections to these images are strong for both artists. Taylor actually won the crown "Miss Mississippi Gulf Coast" in a beauty pageant there and is one of the 40 contestants in her painted "head shots" installed on the wall. Sheng has been working as a commercial photographer and uses a friend as a model in all of these images. Both of these artists are also finishing graduate school this spring; Sheng at Harvard University and Taylor at Georgia State University. Do they dream of being famous? Do they want to be rich? It seems silly to even ask such a question of young recruits to the hyper-competitive "Art World" and its attendant social scene. Can an artist not want to be an "art star"? --James Hull

Kathrine Taylor (L) and Jeff Sheng (R)

Additional Notes:

Jeff Sheng places his photographic work on the other end of the spectrum from Nan Goldin and yet not too close to Richard Avedon or Helmut Newton. Goldin's voyeuristic unposed "diary" photographs rely on their authority as documentation just as Avedon and Newton make us aware of how their images are posed. Sheng's photographs often use existing light and tight compositions with a concentration on the identity of the figure (as in a portrait) but unlike Goldin they are sometimes "set up" - but not always. The ritual of shooting with the same friend often allows the line between "documentary " and "set-up" to be blurred. The pose becomes more evident and the scenario slightly self-conscious as a viewer moves through these expertly sequenced photographs that remain aligned with documentation. Slick becomes so subtle and the camera's eye so infatuated in these complex works that the sexuality seems natural. A polite suggestion of "Gay" creeps in here and there but it is held in reserve -- just as any "taboo" sexuality is edited and "spun" in main stream media. The California feel of the natural beauty of the landscape, the light, the interiors and the handsome male model, parodies the commercial photography used in Calvin Klein, Abercrombie and Fitch and Ralph Lauren advertisements unveiling a bit of the careful construction of these realities.

Katherine Taylor describes our attraction to gambling and contests like "Who wants to marry a millionaire," which she reminds us is a beauty pageant, as "examples of how perceptions are shaped by fantasies of economic transcendence". The narrow definition of beauty the artist saw represented by the look-alike field of contestants, emphasized the paradox between the intellect and savvy of these women and the sexist, megalomania of the contest in which they were all engaged. Taylor grew up in a working class family in the city of Biloxi and saw the effects of the closing of its seafood factories and canneries and the added economic destruction of fierce hurricanes. The pageants were both a ticket out of the area, an economic attraction, like the new casinos, and an affirmation of her rising status in the social structure. The calculated use of the Miss America Pageants to draw people to Atlantic City in the cooler months was just as effective in Biloxi. Tourists, gamblers, they all see the sparkling mirage. The colorful, racing lights of the Las Vegas strip and Atlantic City hold a powerful place in our imagination -- and we know the odds are against us -- but somebody has to win, right?

This intimate version of a common, American fantasy, presented by these artists in two different media, is refreshing because they are the authors of these illusions and they are evaluating their own histories as we look on. The innovation these two artists display is defined by the unflinching assessment of their own role playing. The convergence of the two artists' work is at the edge of reality: the careful construction of the artificial. Bright lights and squeaky clean smiles, did someone say make-up?

 


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