Magazine article Insight on the News

Loving, Hating Ritts to Bits

Magazine article Insight on the News

Loving, Hating Ritts to Bits

Article excerpt

Bostonians are queuing to see the Herb Ritts retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, but critics and curators are somewhat less enthusiastic.

From its graceful entrance on Boston's Huntington Avenue, the Museum of Fine Arts, or MFA, has borne high the banner of culture in the city that sometimes is called the Athens of America. These days, however, the great gray Empress of Brahmin refinement is attempting to shed its staid image with a controversial blockbuster exhibition by a photographer best known for his racy Madonna videos and Calvin Klein ads. "Herb Ritts Work" is the photographer's first major retrospective and is running now through February of next year.

"What makes Herb's work so modern is its touchability," muses fashion diva Donna Karan about the work of the lensman who helped put her on the map with his advertisements. "When we look back, his are the images we will remember." Karan, it might be noted, is underwriting the MFA exhibit.

Whether Ritts will join the gallery of photographers whose commercial work has transcended advertising to become art -- Man Ray and Richard Avedon come to mind -- one thing is certain: The museum is packing them in with its largest show ever dedicated to a shutterbug. Unfortunately, enthusiasm for Ritts' work seems directly linked to the viewer's embrace of all things Karan, Versace and Klein.

"It's Cher's tattoo!" exclaimed Steve Mahoney, a 36-year-old Malden accountant, pointing out the emblazoned derriere of California Republican Rep. Sonny Bono's ex-wife to his girlfriend, Randi, who'd dragged him to the museum for a little culture. "Wow! "

On a recent Sunday morning, an orderly line snaked out the doors of the gallery back through several rooms of ancient artifacts. While waiting to enter the exhibit, visitors told Insight what brought them to the museum.

"Madonna," exuded a 21-year-old East Boston college student named Kerri. "I love his pictures of her. Those and the photos he took of k.d. fang and Cindy Crawford for Vanity Fair -- the one where Cindy's shaving k.d. It's awesome."

Certainly, the 50 photographs that fill the gallery lean heavily on celebrity. There's Madonna in Hollywood and Tokyo. Naomi Campbell in Los Angeles. …

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