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Fotografiska New York : David LaChapelle : Make Believe


Fotografiska New York present until January 15th 2023 its first full-building takeover: Make Believe, the largest U.S. exhibition and first New York museum solo show of the interdisciplinary artist and photographer David LaChapelle, ten years after LaChapelle’s takeover of Fotografiska’s Stockholm flagship. The collection of 150 works on view surveys 11 thematic bodies of fine artwork, some never-exhibited, and is also interspersed with iconic, intergenerationally resonant staples of visual culture that David LaChapelle was behind, from the last-ever portrait of Andy Warhol to dozens of household-name album covers (listed on page 3 of this document) across all genres. In addition to its thematic breadth, Make Believe demonstrates the evolution of LaChapelle’s visionary technical approach to the photography medium, with manual compositional manipulation including hand-painted negatives and proprietary analog splicing methods.

The earliest works in the exhibition were created amid the AIDS epidemic, which tragically affected the gay community in New York City, of which LaChapelle was a part. In 1986, LaChapelle met Warhol, a fellow Catholic who was similarly affected by the toll of AIDS on his close circle of friends (and at the time, was working on his series based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper). LaChapelle’s works of the era were also made in this context of existential despair, using his camera and experimental post- production manipulation processes as a way to make sense of things.

With an overarching thread of art-historical references, Make Believe thematically focuses on the cultural interplay of five themes: religion, the environment (and the duality of man and the natural world / artificiality and nature), gender identity, body image and societal ideals of beauty, and layered explorations around the construct of celebrity.

In addition to frequent stylistic nods to early religious art, the numerous art historical references across LaChapelle’s oeuvre include My Own Marilyn (2002), which depicts LaChapelle’s close friend and muse Amanda Lepore in the style of Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964), a 1997 reimagination of Robert Smithson’s 1970 earthwork Spiral Jetty, and the 2018-2020 series

Sculpture Garden, which pays homage to Georgia O’Keeffe, a lifelong inspiration of LaChapelle’s, by emulating the compositions of artworks O’Keeffe painted in Hawaii between 1939 and 1940. Another series, Gas (2012), is inspired by Edward Hopper’s Gas (1940), though in an updated commentary on the absurdity of man’s attempts to harness nature, depicting archetypical retro gas stations in an on-location shoot in the rainforest of Maui. In 2017, LaChapelle shot the artist David Hockney standing on the edge of a swimming pool over a nude male swimming and another nude male frozen mid-jump, a direct conceptual nod to—but distinct, LaChapelle-esque reimagination of—Hockney’s iconic 1972 painting, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures).

The influence of David LaChapelle’s art practice spans four decades; his first solo exhibition was in 1984 (at 303 Gallery, which at the time was located just one block from Fotografiska New York) and his first large-scale public art commission, by the venerable MTA Arts program for display in the New York City public transit system, was in 1988. Alongside his art practice, LaChapelle’s in- demand status as a high-end editorial photographer at the confluence of art and fashion skyrocketed in the early-1990s due to the sublime signature effect with which he imbued dozens of commissions for the world’s top fashion magazines. His diverse repertoire of cultural impact also includes 19 Rolling Stone covers, as well as having shot fellow visual artists Cecily Brown, David Hockney, Jeff Koons, and Kehinde Wiley.

On the topic of LaChapelle’s early work, describes Nathalie Deitschy, an expert in religious iconography and contemporary figures of Jesus, who authored one of the exhibition’s texts: “In the 1980s, LaChapelle began photographing his entourage [all part of the community heavily affected by the AIDS epidemic] as saints, martyrs, or angels, expressing the feeling of mourning while exploring possible paths of a soul that persists beyond the corporeal. He questions both the possibility of picturing the unphotographable (how to give body to the soul?) and the capacity of the photographic medium to address supernatural subjects. … His early works are marked by an attachment to the materiality of analogue photography, with LaChapelle working on his negatives using various techniques (collage, ink additions, color highlights). However, through his eminently pictorial approach, LaChapelle adds an aesthetic and spiritual deepness to his photographs, which free themselves from direct contact with reality to propose an imaginary afterlife. His recent photographs echo the first experiments of the 1980s. The contemporary sophistication of digital tools enables a supernatural dimension to the pictures.”

Said LaChapelle: “My earliest works from the 1980s were motivated by a search to represent a loving God, the nature of the soul and heaven during a devastating period when I lost many friends. My profession led to working in popular culture and secular themes. Over time, I began to notice how my faith in God was keeping me grounded through my personal struggles, and meanwhile the world of pop culture was turning away from religion and focusing more on fame, wealth, and individualism. It became apparent that I could not separate my personal life and professional work. I feel the responsibility to bring light into the world and make imagery that can elevate and serve humanity, even while sometimes employing drama and humor. Whether secular or religious, my images are part of the same experience and evolving perspective.”


David LaChapelle: Make Believe
9 September 2022 – 15 January 2023
Fotografiska New York
281 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010

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