Kamaal “Q-Tip” Fareed, Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Malik “Phife” Taylor (A Tribe Called Quest), 1997, 2018. Archival pigment print mounted on dibond, maple frame, museum glass. Print size: 156 x 122 cm | 61 3/8 x 48 1/8 in. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam | New York
Dana Lixenberg’s American Images will be exhibited at GRIMM Gallery New York! The project includes a selection of portraits of American icons who have been instrumental in shaping today’s cultural landscape. This exhibition marks the debut of this body of work in New York and in the United States.
Nowadays, the appearance of stardom is more accessible. Not only has fame become democratized through digital media and a culture of abundant self-promotion, photographs are more mediated by celebrities than ever before. When first confronted with the photographs in American Images, it is easy to clock the allure of celebrity, but Lixenberg’s photographs puncture the veneer of fast fame by giving us something more substantial to behold.
Lixenberg summons the humanity of her subjects and makes visible where the reality of life and the mystique of stardom meet. The tone of each work is defined by the emotional state projected by her subjects. Her stripped-down approach revels in the elemental characteristics of these personalities, celebrating the ordinary qualities which supply their public personas. As a body of work, the images are at once bold and vigilant. They seem to dissolve the threshold between the ‘celebrities’ pictured and our own lives.
After publishing a portfolio of her early photographs from her Imperial Courts series in 1993 in the then newly-launched Vibe magazine, Lixenberg became a central contributor to Vibe. George Pitts (1951–2017) the magazine’s legendary founding Photo Editor, who was also a photographer, painter, educator, and writer, grew to become a dear friend of the artist. Pitts was an early advocate for Lixenberg’s work, he recognized the potential of her lens to tease out a more nuanced perspective of the charismatic, larger than life celebrities featured in the magazine. This is exemplified by the fact that one of the first assignments given to Lixenberg was to photograph Tupac Shakur for their February 1994 issue. Her work with Vibe lead to further editorial assignments from numerous prominent publications, both in the U.S. and abroad.
All of Lixenberg’s work is made using a large-format field camera, a cumbersome tool which requires the photographer to undertake a precise number of steps. These steps and the concentration they require make for what Lixenberg refers to as a slow dance
between her and her subjects. The resulting photographs contain an enormous amount of detail and texture, and are as revelatory as an intimate, personal encounter. The locations for most of these photographs are hotel rooms, homes, and in some instances rental studios. These settings serve to provide context without a sense of theatricality. Among these images we see a yawning Jay-Z, portrayed in a bathrobe at the end of a hotel bed; a fragile-looking Jon Bon Jovi, recovering from the flu; Mary J. Blige slumped in a chair, overcome by sleep; and Allen Ginsberg standing in the kitchen of his East Village apartment, staring past the camera as if lost in thought.
Now, in 2018, more than two decades after most of these photographs were made, the images retain a poignancy and cultural relevance. Some of the images, such as those of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. have taken on lives of their own through wide dissemination and appropriation, such as in various memes, fan artwork, clothing and murals which have appeared around the world. In this way, the photographs themselves have achieved a kind of cult status.
This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of George Pitts.
About the artist
Dana Lixenberg (b. 1964 in Amsterdam, NL) lives and works in Amsterdam (NL) and New York (US). She studied photography at the London College of Printing from 1984 to 1986, and at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam from 1987 until 1989. Lixenberg pursues long-term projects with a primary focus on communities at the margins of society, such as Jeffersonville, Indiana (2005), a collection of landscapes and portraits of the small town’s homeless population, and The Last Days of Shishmaref (2008), which documents an Inupiaq community on an eroding island off the coast of Alaska. The power of her work arises from its intimacy and the absence of social stereotyping.
Lixenberg’s most extensive body of work to date, Imperial Courts, 1993-2015 (2015), tracks the changing shape of a small, underserved community in Watts, Los Angeles. The project, consisting of a series of black and white photographs, a publication, audio recordings, and a three-channel video installation, was awarded the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize in 2017.
About the gallery
GRIMM represents thirty international artists. Since its establishment in 2005, it has been the gallery’s mission to represent and support the work of emerging and mid-career artists. The gallery has two exhibition spaces in Amsterdam and one in New York.