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Acting Out: Invented Melodrama in Contemporary Photography

April 7 - June 5, 2005


The University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) will present "Acting Out: Invented Melodrama in Contemporary Photography," an exhibition that identifies melodrama as a major theme in contemporary fine art photography, April 7 - June 5, 2005 in the museum's North Gallery.

"Acting Out" focuses on the enduring presence of melodrama in fine art photography. In the exhibition, 32 photographs by 14 artists make use of the long-standing language of melodrama inspired by literature, theatre, cinema, television, advertising, film stills, photojournalism and historic photography. (right: Simen Johan, Untitled #85, 2001, Type C print, 40 x 40 inches, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, © Simen Johan)

Some of the photographs in "Acting Out" refer to memorable media images. "Untitled" by Israeli artist Adi Nes, for example, mimics the intensity of a famous photograph taken by John Filo during the violence at Kent State University May 4, 1970, while it also alludes to the current crisis in the Middle East.

"Many of the photographs in the exhibition strive to critique the status quo and challenge societal archetypes," noted Kathleen A. Edwards, curator of prints, drawings, photographs and new media at the UIMA and curator of the exhibition.

Narrative structures provide a popular format for many of the photographs in the exhibition. For example, Yinka Shonibare's installation "Dorian Gray" depicts Shonibare in the guise of Oscar Wilde's self-indulgent character, and the dream-world scenarios invented by German artist Janaina Tschape find their inspiration in science-fiction.

"Melodrama is a time-honored system for making sense of experience," Edwards said. "Facial expressions, gestures and atmosphere work as signs that appeal to the emotions of the viewer and offer ways to recognize feelings."

Other artists represented in "Acting Out" include Gregory Crewdson, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 62-page catalogue with 40 color and black-and-white reproductions distributed by the University of Washington Press.

After its stay in the UIMA, "Acting Out" will be on display at the Neuberger Museum of Art at the State University of New York at Purchase, Sept. 4-Dec. 31, 2005.


Exhibition Events

A lecture and reception to celebrate the opening of the exhibition will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7 in the UIMA.

Edwards will lead a tour of "Acting Out" at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 17.

The April 7 lecture will be given by Abigail Solomon-Godeau, professor of art at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of "Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions and Practices." Solomon-Godeau will speak about "The Face of Difference: Gender, Race and the Politics of Representation." A cookie and punch reception will follow the lecture. Solomon-Godeau is also the author of "Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation." She is currently completing a book entitled "The Face of Difference: Gender, Race and the Politics of Self Representation." Her essays on photography, contemporary art, 19th century art and visual culture have been widely anthologized and translated into many foreign languages.

During Edwards' April 17 tour, she will describe the function of melodrama in the exhibition photographs and give a brief overview of some of the sources employed by the photographers, including literature, theatre, film stills and historic photography sources. Edwards will also discuss and explain some of the elaborate technical methods used by the photographers, including the complicated sets by Gregory Crewdson that are reminiscent of the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

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