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Dana Lixenberg: America before 9/11

Dana Lixenberg: America before 9/11

GRIMM Gallery in New York is featuring an exhibition of the Dutch photographer Dana Lixenberg. This great portraitist showcases a collection of her 1990s photographs of famous Americans: writers and intellectuals, rappers and visual artists, politicians and businesspeople. This is a sublime portrait of pre-9/11 America.

Toni Morrison, 2003 © Dana Lixenberg, courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam | New York.

The exhibition American Images brings together some twenty photographs taken by Dana Lixenberg (born 1964 in Amsterdam), in particular her contributions to the Vibe magazine in the 1990s. The visitor moves from one portrait to the next, deriving considerable pleasure from the recognition of all these personalities who have shaped contemporary imagination: the rapper Jay-Ze, the writer and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, the top model Kate Moss, the singer Al green, the businessman (and now US President) Donald Trump, among others. 

Dana Lixenberg uses a large-format view camera, bringing it close to her models in order to conjure up a form of “stillness and introspection,” an approach she likes to compare to a slow dance. The limited number of shots necessitated great concentration on the part of both the photographer and the models, who, despite themselves, were invariably captured off-guard. Jay-Z, pictured in a New York hotel, still wearing his bathrobe, is caught yawning, a TV remote in hand. Kate Moss seems to tremble, as she shifts her weight to one foot, her knee slightly bent and her body curved.

Kate Moss, 1994 © Dana Lixenberg, courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam | New York.

The portrait of an era

These images offer a glimpse of America at the height of her glory and flamboyance—her supreme power—as the twentieth century was drawing to a close and the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the economic downturn loomed on the horizon. We encounter here an unabashed show of wealth (as in the portrait of the rapper The Notorious B.I.G. who is seen counting a wad of banknotes), confidence and determination (like Donald Trump, framed in perfect symmetry and shot from a low angle in a hallway of his Manhattan tower); however, we can already detect a certain sense of melancholy, the success having grown stale.

The choice of images seems nearly foreboding. The models’ gaze, aimed directly at the camera, is never radiant, rarely victorious, but rather evasive or dreamy. Viewed in the age of social networks, when stardom has become democratized, the images paint on the whole a melancholy portrait of celebrity: we have the impression of looking at a bygone era, albeit not a very distant one. The photographs cast doubt on American prosperity in the wake of the country’s ideological victory post-Cold War and on the eve of an economic crisis at home. 

Kamaal “Q-Tip” Fareed, Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Malik “Phife” Taylor (A Tribe Called Quest), 1997 © Dana Lixenberg, courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam | New York.

Al Green, 1995 © Dana Lixenberg, courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam | New York.

Shawn Carter (Jay Z), 1998 © Dana Lixenberg, courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam | New York.

By Hugo Fortin

Dana Lixenberg, American Images

Until February 29, 2020

GRIMM Gallery 

202 Bowery

10012 New York, NY

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