Friday, December 19, 2003

Thomas Kiesewetter; Anne Chu

Art in review: 'Mantegna to Matisse'

Andres Serrano
Paula Cooper Gallery
534 West 21st Street, Chelsea
Through Jan. 17

Andres Serrano has a commercial photographer's canny knack for eye-grabbing if not formally innovative images, and a heat-seeking nose for controversy. In addition to the notorious image of a crucifix submerged in urine, his portfolio of big and glossy pictures includes photographs of slabbed murder victims, heroically weathered homeless people, hooded Ku Klux Klan members and exhibitionistic sexual adventurers.

Mr. Serrano's new photographs are as showy as ever, but they are less manipulatively provocative and more imaginatively generous. The ones on view here are drawn from a continuing series called "America," which will comprise about 100 portraits of people from many different walks of life. Subjects include a Cub Scout, a child beauty queen, a pimp, a former fashion model and crack addict, a migrant worker, a postal worker, a Holocaust survivor, the pop star Snoop Dogg and the former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair. Pictured bigger than life, backlighted by a quasi-divine aura and in most cases looking up as if envisioning a hopeful future, each subject looks superhumanly glamorous.

The photographs are not without irony. Mr. Serrano is, in part, mocking a certain kind of kitsch portraiture. But the photographs give such vivid presence to their subjects that it is hard not to feel genuinely moved by the democratic romance.

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Created: January 5, 2004
Last modified: January 14, 2004
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