A New Horizon: Seascapes by Catherine Opie

Best known for her mid 1990′s series of portraits of individuals and couples from the queer, S&M and other communities, including several notorious self-portraits, Catherine Opie gave new visibility to marginalized subcultures helping define a charged current of “identity politics” in art. Catherine Opie’s Twelve Miles to the Horizon at the Regen Projects ll did not display her politically charged portraits of Lesbians clad in bondage wear, instead, her attention once again turned towards the Ocean.

In the summer of 2009, Catherine Opie set out on a voyage aboard a container ship en route from South Korea to Long Beach. The voyage is documented in a series of time-based photographs that capture each sunrise and sunset for the duration of the journey. All photographs use the same compositional scheme: equal-size registers of water and sky broken by a thin horizon line. Ms. Opie also used this format in her iconic series Icehouses, (2001) Surfers, (2003) and The Blue of Distance, (2008).  Twelve Miles to the Horizon (2009) reveals a poetic, semi-abstract vision of blue monochromes, where sky and water meet the horizon. Each photograph is hung a few inches apart, with the horizon line running continuously at the same level, creating panoramas that completely immerse the viewer.

Ms. Opie’s continual emphasis on the horizon-line is a potent symbol in American culture, underlining notions of time, space, and uncharted territory. This is momentarily disrupted, however, by two distinct and monumental photographs hung at either end of the gallery where the landscape is punctuated with signs of life: the container facilities in Long Beach and South Korea. Photographed at such a distance, the containers piled up, the vehicles and workers become tiny figures engulfed by the environment, their presence surreal and insignificant in comparison to the vast and enduring terrain.

Adding to the power of the oeuvre is the cathedral-like installation. The hazy horizon described in blues and grays as group conveys something of watching water from far away. Individually, however, these studies are not aggressively transformative, nor simply documentary. Out of the fourteen photographs of exactly the same size and shape, all untitled, none approaches the sea differently from any other. Geert Goiris’s, “traumatic realism” used to describe a series of loosely connected photographs taken over six years, displays photographs that are emotionally and aesthetically distinct from one another. If it is Opie’s intention to convey sameness, the series should be kept whole, as a unique group – a photographic sculpture – to emphasize the monotony.

all photographs © Juan Madrigal

It is not Opie’s intention to keep the series together. Eventually the show will be taken down, Collectors and institutions alike will separate the oeuvre, and the works will loose their collective meaning and the very intimate portrait they create. On that note, I suggest you go see the exhibition at the Regen Projects ll.

One Comment

  1. Hi Merriah, I’ve been looking for good art blogs and haven’t found that many. I’m glad to see yours. I have my own blog, focusing primarily on contemporary Native/First Nations art and will link my blog to yours. my blog is call Not Artomatic and is at http://travelpeapod.wordpress.com/

    Keep up the good work!
    Lara Evans

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