Magazine article Artforum International

Harvey Opgenorth

Magazine article Artforum International

Harvey Opgenorth

Article excerpt

BODYBUILDER & SPORTSMAN

Harvey Opgenorth knows that one way to consider the many legacies of modem painting is to step into its shoes. Opgenorth begins the works in his ongoing "Museum Camouflage" series, 1998--, with a visit to a major American art museum, where he selects a well-known painting--an Ellsworth Kelly at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; a Matisse at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; a Frankenthaler at the Milwaukee Art Museum in Opgenorth's hometown; and, this summer, a Rothko at the Art Institute of Chicago (where he was prevented from completing his performance). In each case, Opgenorth studies the work closely, then combs thrift stores to find clothes that match the precise chromas of a section of the chosen canvas. He meticulously fashions a complete outfit that will allow his body to blend seamlessly into the painting when he stands in front of it. Then Opgenorth returns to the museum and, in a kind of guerrilla theater performance, without requesting permission or authorization, stands silently with his back t o the painting for one hour.

This is gentle subversion, a witty unmasking of the authority of the museum, its hallowed hierarchy now stuffed and ready for embalming. Opgenorth's performance--and his tales of being hassled by museum staff, challenged by museum-goers, tugged at by children, etc.--has a deadpan innocence about it. He becomes lost in the painting, his steady forward gaze a Magritte-like gesture toward eroded personhood in the midst of the near disappearance and sublimation of the rest of his body. And yet there's a sense of homage to art and its canon here too, an aura appropriation that reifies the swatches of color in the painting behind Opgenorth, making them suddenly germane. This seems modest raillery, a way of taking possession that is also a surrender, a relatively benign insertion. …

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