The International Center of Photography (ICP) has opened its doors to the exhibition Face to Face: Portraits of Artists by Tacita Dean, Brigitte Lacombe and Catherine Opie. Organized by renowned writer and curator Helen Molesworth, the exhibition presents portraits of luminaries in the arts by three of the most prominent portraitists of our time. Face to Face will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by ICP and MACK, London, with essays by Molesworth and writer and curator Jarrett Earnest. ‘Face to Face’ has been extended through May 7th.
Creating an atmosphere of conversations held just beyond the frame of the images, Face to Face features more than 50 photographs by Brigitte Lacombe and Catherine Opie, and two films by Tacita Dean, with bracing, intimate, and resonant portraits of compelling cultural figures including Maya Angelou, Richard Avedon, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Didion, David Hockney, Miranda July, Rick Owens, Martin Scorsese, Patti Smith, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, and John Waters, among others. The exhibition presents some of the often-overlapping subjects immortalized by Dean, Lacombe, and Opie and investigates the charged genre of portraiture, one that often carries a sense of intimacy and exposure simultaneously.
“These pictures and films offer us formality and intimacy, patience and curiosity, and the thrill of an unguarded moment,” said curator Helen Molesworth. “I see all three artists involved in making pictures that are not only in dialogue with their given subjects, but also with the history of the genre of portraiture and the medium of photography. Art is many things, but for artists it is a way of talking to each other through pictures. It’s a transhistorical game of stealing and borrowing techniques, paying homage to one another’s triumphs—a constant call and response.”
“ICP is pleased to collaborate with esteemed guest curator Helen Molesworth to bring this fascinating look at contemporary portraiture to New York audiences,” said David E. Little, executive director of ICP. “Face to Face is the first focused portraiture exhibition at ICP’s new downtown location at 79 Essex Street. The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to see three of the most accomplished imagemakers of our time approach the subject of portraiture from their distinctly different vantage points, broadening our understanding of contemporary lens- based work. Collaborating with Tacita Dean, Brigitte Lacombe, and Catherine Opie reflects ICP’s commitment to exhibiting imagemakers at the fore of visual culture today, and we are honored that Brigitte Lacombe’s first major presentation in a New York institution is here at ICP.”
Tacita Dean creates films that are studies of time and everyday life as it unfolds before the camera. Notably, she has produced a series of portraits of older artists, including Cy Twombly, Mario Merz, and Merce Cunningham. On view in Face to Face, Dean’s 16-minute film Portraits (2016) captures the artist David Hockney’s approach to art in his Los Angeles studio. The film opens with a shot of the artist standing with his back to the camera, smoking and reading a book. Watching him read and smoke, the viewer is witness to the artist’s working process, appreciating the small moments that make up an artist’s practice. In contrast, Dean’s One Hundred and Fifty Years of Painting (2021) records a conversation between the 99-year-old painter Luchita Hurtado and the 49-year-old artist Julie Mehretu; their combined ages inspire the film’s title.
Brigitte Lacombe’s oeuvre could be described as a who’s who of the second half of the 20th century. On view in Face to Face are a selection of Lacombe’s studio portraits and also portraits of artists taken in their own studios. In the catalogue for Face to Face Molesworth notes how intimate details catch the eye: “the slight gap between Hilton Als’s two front teeth, the way Joan Didion’s left eye is slightly higher than her right one, the sly almost-smile that pulls at the corner of Fran Lebowitz’s mouth.” She also has a long term project of shooting on director Martin Scorsese’s movie sets. Lacombe’s set pictures show artists at work, and her photos depict an ongoing portrait of the director over time, with on-set images from Gangs of New York, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street, among other productions.
Catherine Opie is known for her early images of members of the LGBTQ community, using traditional portraiture to bring underrepresented people into the mainstream of contemporary culture. More recently she did a dedicated series of portraits of artists. Photographs by Opie in Face to Face span three decades, from 1993 to 2019, and include images of Justin Bond, Thelma Golden, Miranda July, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, and Rick Owens among others. Often the sitter does not meet the gaze of the camera, such as the silhouetted view of Kara Walker or a shirtless Lawrence Weiner smoking a cigarette. The results are images of artists plunged into their own thoughts, both solitary, melancholic, and slightly magical.
As Molesworth notes, “Each of these artists has engaged portraiture—a genre of image-making as old as modernity itself—as a means of connecting themselves to other artists. The results are three bodies of work that play with the historical conventions of the genre while nibbling away at its edges.”