Weegee: MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, LOS ANGELES

Article excerpt

Chatting with Peter Sellers on the set of Dr. Strangelove in 1963, Weegee (aka Arthur Eellig) recounts his summer: "It's been a strange one. ... I was sent by a magazine to photograph famous photographers. ... Of course, I included myself." Though the conversation happened in London, it nevertheless underscores the photographer's particular relationship to fame and therefore the premise of "Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles," which showcases the Eastern European-born, though quintessentially New York journalist's stint in Tinseltown. Trading grizzly crime scenes for the soundstages and back rooms of the "dream factory," Weegee penetrated the glossy surface of Hollywood to document the unsightly scaffolding that, between 1947 and 1951, was making it all possible, along with its lurid cast of characters: gossip columnists and topless dancers, nameless starlets and screaming fans, studio heads and silver-screen icons (in various stages of glamorous composure or disarray), and even an award-winning mule.

Following Naked City, his 1945 photo monograph chronicling the underbelly of the Big Apple, Weegee released Naked Hollywood, 1953, which featured his relatively bloodless but no less lascivious snaps of LA. Yet the bounty of work on view in this show--including never-before-exhibited proofs and working prints as well as how-to photo pamphlets and pages shot for girlie rags--exceeds the ambitions of that pulpy tome. In this selection, much credit is due to the expertise of Richard Meyer, who, aided by assistant curator Jason Goldman, forged a coherent path--via thematic threads such as "Stars," "Showgirls," and "Bitparts" through what must be a spectacularly unwieldy trove of material.

Through Meyer's filter, we were given Weegee as the ultimate outsider-insider saboteur--both a master satirist able to deconstruct fame while savoring the spoils of the famous and an elusive figure, with a penchant for bathroom humor, who relished occupying the fringes even while training the spotlight on his own myth. …