“The worldliness of photography is the outcome, not of any immanent universality of meaning, but of a project of global domination. The language of the imperial centers is imposed, both forcefully and seductively, upon the peripheries.” - Allan Sekula
Marc Selwyn Fine Art is pleased to announce, The Body Wants to Live, an exhibition of small-format gelatin silver prints by Matt Lipps. This is the artist’s fifth show with the gallery.
In this new series, Lipps sources iconic silhouettes from Richard Avedon’s 1990s campaign for Gianni Versace to frame and reanimate The Family of Man catalogue that accompanied the eponymous 1955 MoMA exhibition curated by Edward Steichen. Echoing the exhibition’s layout, the catalogue is filled with small boxed images proposing a universal narrative from creation to death arranged on white pages. With his signature cut outs, Lipps transforms this printed publication into theatrical tableaux employing collage strategies, sculptural devices, and dramatic staging. Studio lighting combines portrait and product photographic techniques to illuminate the dynamically posed bodies, lending a film noir aura to the surreal fashion photoshoot. The Body Wants to Live explores the contrast between the high fashion sensibility of Avedon’s silhouettes and the appropriated content of their interior photographs, often highlighting the wealth and racial disparities that are in especially sharp focus today.
Fashion photography has long influenced Lipps’s practice. Having come of age in the 90’s, he cites an early preoccupation with mass-distributed fashion magazines as both a creative and personal awakening:
Pre“Worshipping those pictures as a closeted, queer kid, I fell in love with photography and found a safe way of relating to the world from a distance. While fashion images privilege style over substance, you cannot dismiss the substance at play and how highly manipulated and manipulative all photographs are. I learned at a tender age to police my own and others’ genders; I felt disdain for how I saw and held my body; I adopted unhealthy attitudes about wealth and whiteness; and, I bought all of it! This purchase is the stealth and seduction of photography. A photograph of war and a photograph of a model are both photographs. As photography grows exponentially more sophisticated than the lexicon used to prop up our understanding of its operation, we are perpetually reconfiguring ourselves and our relationships in an attempt to operate it.”
To Steichen, photography was uniquely suited for “giving form to ideas” and “explaining man to man”. The Family of Man catalogue described its function as mirroring “the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world.” The United States Information Agency (1953-1999) produced five versions of the exhibition that toured the world for 8 years and were seen by over 9 million people. The enduring publication has sold over 4 million copies and has never been out of print. While receiving accolades for its innovative design and ambitious curatorial premise, it was also met with heavy criticism for papering over problems of race and class and for presenting a United States-centric view of the world. According to Lipps, “The USIA was a propaganda machine. It saw an opportunity in this exhibition to masquerade behind a sentimental humanist message in order to smuggle colonizing directives encoded in photographs to promote ‘American values’—patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, and religiosity propagated by capitalism.” As, Susan Sontag wrote in On Photography "By purporting to show that individuals are born, work, laugh, and die everywhere in the same way, The Family of Man denies the determining weight of history - of genuine and historically embedded differences, injustices, and conflicts.”
In an essay accompanying the exhibition, William J. Simmons writes:
“Criticality is itself a shroud of sorts that reduces the photograph to another binary condition of being either deconstructive or complicit. We cannot say of Lipps’s work that, as is often remarked of Martha Rosler’s political photomontages, the spectral images of the “real” world haunt the pristine, glossy pages of Better Homes and Gardens and Vogue and the never-out-of-print exhibition catalogue for The Family of Man as if we need the pasticheur to tell us that war reportage and Versace and Avedon and porn and racist curatorial strategies exist on the same plane. We know this because we live in that coextensive state, and, as with Rosler and Barbara Kruger, for that matter, the power of Lipps’ work lies not in the easy condemnation of a juxtaposition, but rather in the uncomfortable and erotic space of repulsion and guilt admixed with love.”
Matt Lipps (b. 1975) received his MFA from University of California, Irvine in 2004. His work is in the collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Saatchi Collection, The Pilara Foundation Collection/Pier 24, San Francisco, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. He lives and works in Los Angeles.