The New York-based photographer Anne Collier was walking by images of Madonna and Marilyn Monroe on Thursday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
They were all hers. Sort of. Collier, 43, is best known for her playful appropriation of photographs of pop-culture icons, though she’s just as likely to train her eye on everyday objects such as record sleeves and cassette tapes. And now she’s getting the first major survey of her work at the museum.
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Spanning about 40 works dating from 2002 to the present, the self-titled exhibit covers everything from Faye Dunaway holding a camera in the “Woman With a Camera” series to a suite of five pictures of notes she found on the streets of New York, each with subtitles, asking philosophical questions about life.
“I’m taking photos of things that exist in popular culture,” Collier said at the opening. “A lot of different things go into my decision-making about what I photograph. Things lead into each other. I’ll be researching one thing and something else will come up.”
The exhibit, on view until March 8, comes to the museum through the support of Christian Dior. Pamela Baxter, president and chief executive officer of LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics and Christian Dior Couture, said the house became involved thanks to “the art of friendship.”
“Anne and Raf [Simons] are longtime friends,” Baxter said of the Dior designer, who couldn’t attend because of preparations for his January couture show. “The corporation has always been a big supporter of the arts, but when
you have such a personal connection like Raf has to Anne, it was just natural.” During remarks at a seated dinner of about 60 guests, which included collectors Marty and Rebecca Eisenberg, Charlotte Feng Ford, Susan D. Goodman and the Chicago society doyenne Anne Kaplan, Baxter said Dior will open a boutique in the city in 2016.
The Eisenbergs, who live in New York, loaned their “Woman With a Camera” photo featuring Monroe. “There’s a lot of emotion here,” Rebecca Eisenberg said. “Her work speaks to you. It’s dramatic. It unsettles you a little bit.”
The Monroe image, which comes from a spread in Bert Stern’s “The Last Sitting,” is typical of Collier’s oeuvre. The California native works with images that already exist in the mainstream — her picture of Madonna is of an original by Steven Meisel — to examine a number of her interests, including the mechanics of the camera and the objectification of women in pop culture.
“It’s a really cool piece, and it sums up so many of Anne’s concerns,” said Michael Darling, chief curator at the museum. “This is an example of someone who’s so heavily photographed, and here’s Marilyn holding a camera and kind of turning it backwards at us. It’s so poignant.”
In the same gallery, next to Monroe, is Judy Garland, originally shot by Douglas Kirkland. “Judy Garland is kind of crying,” Darling continued. “This talks about media culture and celebrity, but also emotions. How much can we trust the media to deliver truthful portrayals of emotion? Is she acting? Or is this catching her at a fragile moment?”
The curator, another California native who’s a longtime friend of the artist, described Collier as “almost as much of an archaeologist as a contemporary artist. She’s out there scouring through popular culture and finding these things that she thinks are meaningful,” he said. “Over the years, she’s been able to create this cool and detached approach to her subjects without sacrificing the content and emotion that’s behind the work. There’s something very probing in all of the images. All of her work is very casual and straightforward. She really puts all of the responsibility on the viewer to make the connections.”
Collier, who was in town just for the opening of the exhibit, could not herself pick a favorite piece.
“I like them as a whole thing. Maybe the ones that are of my own eye,” she said. “It’s me in the photo, so I feel it’s a little personal.”