Posts Tagged ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Graciela Iturbide’s Private Universe

6a00d8341c630a53ef013485f186c2970c-500wiAn ostrich stares indignantly at me, hip jutting out as though I had ditched its Thanksgiving dinner. “What are you doing in this gallery staring at me?” it seems to say. “Why didn’t you bring the cranberry sauce?” Like an exaggerated cartoon version of an image in National Geographic, the ostrich is one of the more vivid subjects in Graciela Iturbide’s most recent exhibition, Graciela Iturbide: asor, ending this week in the Rose Gallery at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

Iturbide once said, “While using my camera I am, above all, an actress participating in the scene taking place at the moment, and the other actors know what role I play.” In “asor,” taken straight from her personal archive, Iturbide creates a fantasy world that explores the terror and joy of childhood solitude. Inspired by her grandchildren and Alice in Wonderland, Iturbide photographed the Southern United States, Italy, India and Mexico, using snippets from each location but nothing identifiable from any of them. Instead, she crafted a new narrative that makes the fantastic pedestrian and the pedestrian fantastic. Clocks and abandoned buildings take on the significance of mythical creatures. In one pair of photographs, two blank eyeholes carved out of rocks peer out at the viewer, observing and saying nothing. Birds gather ominously in the sky like locusts, and in one arresting image, sunflowers are backlit and shot from below, drooping and spiky as Venus Fly Traps. Iturbide plays with perspective: A giant plaster head sits next to a parked car, disorienting any sense of scale. A bell-shaped flower is photographed from the side, grossly distorted, its surface as smooth and shiny as porcelain.

In one remarkable shot, a leopard lunges towards the camera, eyes shut, front legs crumpled in an awkward gait. The leopard looks as clumsy as a cartoon, with a viciously contorted face, like a living stuffed animal about to be killed. Iturbide photographs things with a childlike wonder and innocence, only distorted through a morbid prism. Her minutely crafted universe reveals her fascination with the coexistence of life and death, and the exquisite beauty of violence.

Iturbide came late to photography, influenced by the surrealism and mysticism of Luis Buñuel and the indigenous people photographed by Manuel Alvarez Bravo. The last time I saw Iturbide’s photography was three years ago in a retrospective at the J. Paul Getty Musuem, and the images were grisly: dead pigs, strung-up birds, a woman clutching a knife in her mouth preparing a goat for slaughter. Iturbide is best known for her ethnographic images of the Zapotec people in Oaxaca, including her famed “Mujer Ángel,” in which an indigenous woman faces a fertile valley, casually holding a boombox.

Despite the intrigue of Iturbide’s newest exhibition, I was drawn to much of her other work on display in the gallery. In 2006, Iturbide was allowed to photograph inside the estate of Frida Kahlo, and in one image, a pair of tiny, deformed-looking feet rest on the siding of a porcelain bathtub. The bathtub is Kahlo’s and the feet are Iturbide’s, appearing corpse-like. Several other images are more immediately arresting than her newer work, which is more quiet and restrained. But Iturbide’s willingness to explore new artistic territory demonstrates her continued relevance. Perhaps Iturbide deserves more recognition, which is difficult when her newer images are so private. Upon discovering her for the first time, the viewer is free to create a new reality, in which ostriches talk, flowers are monstruous, death is imminent, and life is more vivid than ever.

- By Cassandra McGrath

Graciela Iturbide’s asor ended its run this past weekend at the Rose Gallery in the Santa Monica Museum of Art. For more information on upcoming exhibitions, please visit www.rosegallery.net.

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