Monday, November 16, 2009

Royal Ontario Museum

Visits to galleries and museums are usually time well spent, especially on rainy, dull Sunday afternoons.

The Vanity Fair Portraits (1913-2008) currently on exhibit at the ROM were definitely thought provoking. The exhibit is beautiful, but alarmingly shallow - somewhat like the celebrity culture it documents.

The photos themselves are works of art and exquisite records of iconic personalities captured over several decades. One particularly fascinating installation displays a final cover photo that Annie Leibovitz took of George Clooney, alongside some video footage that shows what took place behind the scenes to make it happen. There was also some silent footage of Steichen at work in the studio, circa 1920.

I would have appreciated a lot more info about the photographers and their process. Additional context for the photos would have provided a whole other layer (historical time lines, other events taking place, the subject of the original article). As it is, the photos are displayed with a mention of the photographer and a blurb about the celebrity. The 'focus' is generally on the celebrity, not the photographer - unless the photographer is a celebrity themselves (like Leibovitz, Mapplethorpe or Steichen).

The exhibits taking place throughout the museum elegantly put things into perspective: provocative displays about biodiversity, geology, Egyptian tombs, the 10 Commandments, lost civilizations, and primitive cultures. What we think of as essential somehow becomes ephemeral. Urgent headlines become forgotten. What's it all about, anyway?

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