SF MOMA Gallery Talk: Curator Lisa Sutcliffe on Rineke Dijkstra’s Beach Portraits, Thursday evening, April 19, 2012
One of the most highly regarded photographers of her generation, Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra is well known for her psychologically probing portraits of ordinary people in states of transition. Her Beach Portraits, a very painterly series taken between 1992-1996, in which adolescents from all over—the U.K., Croatia, Poland, Ukraine—are posed alone against a background of sea and sky brought her immediate acclaim. More than simply documenting a transitional moment, Dijkstra reveals a heightened tension in her subjects who are delicately poised on the edge of an unknown future. These life-size photographs and videos, subtly colored, are celebrated for capturing the essential nature and complexities of growing up. Taken as a group, these portraits reveal fascinating cultural differences and some universal similarities and allow us to draw some profound conclusions about how people react under a watchful eye.
Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective, at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) through May 28, 2012, is the artist’s first midcareer retrospective in the United States, bringing together 70 of her large-scale color photographs, including many of the beach portraits, and five video installations, including two new video projections. The exhibition is coorganized by SFMOMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and curated locally by Sandra Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography, SFMOMA. On Thursday, April 19, 2012, Lisa Sutcliffe, assistant curator of photography, SFMOMA, will give a 20 minute gallery talk, sharing her perspective on one of Dijkstra’s portraits in her Beach Portraits series. Meet in the Haas Atrium at 6:30 p.m. before moving into the galleries. Free with museum admission.
If you go, be sure to watch her 12 minute video “I see a woman crying (the weeping woman)” (2009) which unfolds on three screens and is the first work in which she used the human voice. Picasso’s “Weeping Woman” (1937), in the Tate Liverpool, was used as the talking point for a group of British schoolchildren who are filmed having a prolonged serious discussion about what they see in the painting. To create the video, she set up three cameras on tripods and had the children look at a reproduction of the painting that was attached to the middle tripod, so none of them were looking straight into the camera lens but beyond it, at the image. Unlike a conventional portrait in which the subject looks at the camera, the children here were engaged with each one another and thus disconnected from the viewer. What they come up with and how they respond to each other’s remarks and begin to speculate on the woman’s emotional state and situation is truly fascinating.
Also riveting is her series “Almerisa,” (1994-2008) a study in how a subject, in this case a 6-year-old Bosnian girl in a refugee center for asylum seekers in Leiden, Netherlands, changes over time. When Dijkstra first photographed Almerisa in 1994, she was in her best and probably only dress, and posed lifelessly, almost like a rag doll, her feet dangling because they could not touch the floor. Concerned about what had happened to her, Dijkstra found the family after they left the center and settled into life in the Netherlands and began photographing Almerisa every two years or so, completing 11 portraits of her sitting in a chair, that also captured her maturation into a young woman. The final portrait captures Almerisa holding her own baby. The orthodoxy in this powerful series is one of honesty rather than beauty. The subject’s body and character are transitioning for many reasons that invite the viewer to embark on the same type of speculation that Dijkstra asked of the school children who encountered Picasso’s powerful portrait.
Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective is the second of three shows at SFMOMA this year focusing on Female Pioneers of Photography. The first was Francesca Woodman, September 5, 2011-February 20, 2012. The third is Cindy Sherman, July-October, 2012.
Details: SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street, San Francisco, across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. General admission is $18—Thursday evenings admission is half-price. For more information, visit www.sfmoma.org.