October 2008, Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913 - 2008 @ LACMA

Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913 – 2008
LACMA from October 21 through March 1, 2009
Sponsored by Burberry

Bringing the exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery in London, Vanity Fair Portraits: photographs 1913 – 2008 boasts around two hundred photos from the epic “Vanity Fair” magazine’s historic archive. “The exhibition explores the ways in which photography and celebrity have interacted and changed,” states the press release, and LACMA will hold the only U.S. stop of the show on its international tour.

One of the only well curated shows ever held at LACMA, the exhibition was displayed chronologically from left to right including original magazines, videos of the photography shoots, original documents from Vanity Fair, and an arrangement of past covers from the sixties to last month. The photographs, all framed in basic black with white matte surrounding each image, were hung very close together in order to fit the limitations of the space with extremely long title cards depicting absolutely useless information about the work. Explanations of who the portraits were taken of and why they were famous along with whom the photographers were seemed sterile and unimportant with no tie between each photograph except that they came from Vanity Fair.

The images in themselves were beautifully executed and printed, as one would expect from the prestigious photographers: Cecil Beaton, Helmut Newton, Man Ray, and of course Annie Leibovitz who has never taken a bad photo in her life, among others. The later photography in color stuck out like a rose in a monochromatic world, and the black and white prints’ range of grays would make the color wheel jealous. Impressive images such as that of Hilary Swank in mid-air stride, Gloria Swanson covered in lace, or Kate Winslet swimming in an oversized fish tank as homage to Titanic rang with creativity, inspiration, and magnificence in their performance. But earlier reflections such as those of Babe Ruth, Claude Monet, and Sean Connery and Michael Caine lacked originality, imagination, and remarkability, looking more like Polaroid’s taken with good lighting.

Overall, the exhibition is entertaining, and the photographs are extremely well done, but if you are planning to go for educational purposes, you may want to brush up on your Vanity Fair knowledge before stepping foot into LACMA, because you will have no idea what the point of the exhibition is besides a retrospective of aesthetically pleasing images by very well known photographers, or as I heard someone say in passing, “A century of paparazzi.”
whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Alexx Shaw for WM LA

Alexx Shaw is a freelance writer in LA.

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