Top image: ‘Untitled (eyelashes)’, 1982 -84 © Richard Prince
In the context of today’s digital age, social media has played a massive role in democratising the image. Through platforms like Instagram we have become the photographer, able to curate and manipulate the visual identity we put out there. But before any of that existed, artists like Robert Heinecken and Richard Prince were challenging the idea that photography is a faithful representation of reality. Now, a new exhibition at London’s Skarstedt Gallery is exploring that generation of artists and those who have been influenced by them since.
As the gallery’s director Bona Montagu below explains, the exhibition, titled Double Take, explores appropriation and how different generations of artists have tackled the subject through the medium of photography. On display are pieces from Heinecken’s ‘Are You Real?’ series as well as key works by artists from the Pictures Generation (think Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger and Louise Lawler). Featuring images appropriated from fashion and lifestyle magazines, the artworks provide a visual commentary on ideas such as the subliminal messages propagated through mass visual imagery and the gap between the stylised fictions marketed for public consumption and the notion of photography as a faithful recorder of truth.
Alongside these artists, Double Take also showcases work by five artists of a younger generation: Anne Collier, Roe Ethridge, Collier Schorr, Hank Willis Thomas and Steven Shearer who share the interests of their predecessors in questioning the notions of originality and authenticity, as well as exploring the conditions of contemporary image consumption and dissemination. Altogether, it’s a timely investigation of the power of pictures in shaping ideas of identity, gender, race, desire and sexuality.
Nazanin Shahnavaz: Why has Skarstedt decided to focus on the theme of appropriation?
Bona Montagu: Since its inception in 1994, Skarstedt’s programme has been focused on art from the late twentieth century, in particular artists belonging to the ‘Pictures Generation’, for whom appropriation moved beyond a formal tactic and became the content of the work itself. In today’s digital age of image saturation, we felt it timely to revisit this period of image-making and to look at how a younger generation of artists has been influenced by their predecessors, as well as presenting their own unique take on appropriation.
Nazanin: How has the theme been explored?
Bona: Beginning with the artists associated with the ‘Pictures Generation’, including Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger and Louise Lawler, who came of age during the media-drive consumerism of the late 1970s and early 80s, the theme is explored through a dialogue between these artists and those that precede and succeed them. Using the formal and conceptual properties of photography, the artists explore the continued role of images in shaping ideas of identity, race, gender, power, sexuality and desire.
Nazanin: What impact has social media had on photography?
Bona: Social media plays a key role in the democratisation of the image today. Arguably everyone is engaged in the practice of appropriation – digitally cutting and pasting, sharing and posting our lived experiences as well as the billions of instantly accessible images found on the internet.
Nazanin: The selection of photographers span across over half a century, what were some of the major social and cultural shifts that shaped their work?
Bona: The ‘Pictures Generation’ artists emerged at a time of huge political, social and economic shifts in America. It was an era defined by the exponential rise of mass-media consumer culture. Their work offered a critical perspective on how images shape our perception of the world and our place in it. In the case of the younger generation of artists, their work contends with the ever-increasing proliferation of images and the rapidity of our digital world, whilst still engaging with the power of images in affecting our value and belief systems.
“These artists emerged at a time of huge political, social and economic shifts in America.”
Nazanin: How does Double Take challenge photography?
Bona: The exhibition comes at a timely moment when our every moment is photographed, liked, Instagrammed and shared across various social-media channels. The artists in Double Take all challenge the notion that photography presents a faithful representation of reality and incite us to look more closely at how images are manipulated, styled and filtered. Spanning a period of 50 years, the works in the exhibition take a closer look at the fluid boundaries between originality and authorship, staging and improvisation, fact and fiction.
‘Double Take’ runs until 22nd April at Skarstedt, 8 Bennet St, St. James’s, London SW1A 1RP