UB brings acclaimed photographer Cathy Opie to Burchfield Penney

Photo of Justin Bond.

From the Cathie Opie Portraits series, her photo titled, Justin Bond, 1993 (Julian Vivian Bond is a transgendered American singer-songwriter, performance artist, occasional actor, Radical Faerie and fixture of the New York avant-garde.)

Her cultural portraiture explores sexuality and gender as performance

Release Date: September 5, 2013 This content is archived.

“She is a warm, engaging speaker whose work veers between compelling and brilliant. This is a program not to miss. ”
Jonathan D. Katz, associate professor and director of the doctoral program
UB Department of Visual Studies

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The University at Buffalo Department of Visual Studies will present a lecture by internationally acclaimed documentary photographer Cathy Opie at 7 p.m. September 16 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, 1300 Elmwood Ave.

Her talk, presented in partnership with New York City’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center and the Burchfield Penney Art Center, is part of the Leslie-Lohman Queer Art Lecture Series and is free and open to the public.

Jonathan D. Katz, director of the UB PhD program in visual studies, is the president of the Leslie-Lohman Museum and curated the series.

One of the most visible and widely exhibited lesbian artists in the world, Opie is also one of the rare queer artists to achieve mainstream success on her own terms. In the fall of 2008, for instance, she was the subject of what Katz calls “a major, superlatively reviewed mid-career retrospective” at the Guggenheim Museum.

Here, she will discuss, among other things, the tension in her work between the personal, the particular, the universal and the general.

Katz says, “When we first began the Leslie-Lohman Lectures, Cathy Opie was the opening name on the list. But she is heavily in demand so we have been unable to bring her to Buffalo until now. She is a warm, engaging speaker whose work veers between compelling and brilliant. This is a program not to miss.

“She is perhaps the most celebrated living queer photographer,” he says, “and a founding figure in queer art in general. Her studio portraits rose to prominence in the 1990s, in part due to her repeated subversion of familiar expectations and social codes.”

Her 1993 photograph Self-Portrait/Cutting is a photo of her naked back, onto which which has been scratched a child-like line drawing, outlined in blood. She says the drawing, which depicts two girls holding hands in front of a house, sun peeking through clouds, portrays her wish at the time for a female partner with whom she might share a home and a life.  

“Opie has since moved beyond various species of queer self-representation to produce work that undercuts gender expectations and gives form to the still-nascent queer theory notion of gender as performance,” says Katz. “Her photos of presumptively heterosexual adolescent men playing football, for instance, underscore her point that the performance of gender is hardly a quality of queers alone.

Katz points out that other of her series, including those involving moody images of surfers and of baroque highway clover leafs, “further complicate attempts to describe a neat thematic trajectory in her work.” It has been suggested, however, that her series are linked by a conceptual framework of cultural portraiture.

Currently a photography professor at UCLA, Opie‘s work has been widely exhibited in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. In 2013 she received the Julius Shulman Excellence in Photography Award, and in 2006, a United States Artists Fellowship.

Recent solo exhibitions have been organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, CT, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Photographers’ Gallery in London, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and the Long Beach Museum of Art.

The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is the world’s first museum dedicated solely to providing a venue for multi-disciplinary work that engages gay and lesbian historical, social, or political issues still excluded from mainstream venues.  The Queer Art Lecture Series showcases the most significant contemporary queer artists with an emphasis on exploring the relationship between their sexuality and their art. Each of the lectures in the series will also be presented at the Leslie-Lohman Museum located at 26 Wooster Street, NY, NY.

Opie’s appearance is co-sponsored by the UB Graduate Group in Queer Studies; UB Law School’s OUTLaw; and Gay and Lesbian Youth Services (GLYS) of Western New York.

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