Marilyn Monroe vs. Natalie White + Now You See
86 Delancey Street, New York City
Rox Gallery presents Marilyn Monroe vs. Natalie White in conjunction with the group show Now You See, a bold staging of the human body that straddles the grotesque and the classically beautiful, the strange and the sensual, throwing the erotic imagery of Stern and White into high relief. Now You See features work by artists Andrew Coslow, Amanda Charchian, Elliot Goldstein, Chen Jiagang, Dave Schubert, Frank Schramm, H. Spencer Young, Huang Yan, Imogen Cunningham, James Powers, Jarmo Makila, J.J. Bugat, Jordan Doner, Max Snow, Michael Wolf, Sean Lennon, Spencer Tunick, Tanatos Banionis, Tom Smith, and Richard Estes.
Photographer, performance artist, and muse Natalie White was discovered by famed photographer Peter Beard inside the now defunct New York City nightclub Bungalow 8 at the age of seventeen. As muse and artist, White and Beard traveled the world—voyages that transformed White from an unknown girl from West Virginia into a muse with something extra: an active desire to capture and take over.
In an inspired pairing, The Last Sitting, Bert Stern’s iconic and intimate photographs of Marilyn Monroe taken six weeks before the star’s death in 1962, face off against artist and mega-muse Natalie White’s Second Giant Polaroid series of double-exposure self-portraits, shot using one of the last remaining 20×24 Polaroid cameras in the world. Following the controversial group show Who Shot Natalie White? at Rox Gallery this spring, which featured White as the undressed, obsessive subject of 24 contemporary artists, the artist reclaims the lens in a gorgeously improper counterstatement. In the Second Giant Polaroids, White, turned on by her own reflection in the mirror, captures both the quick hit and deliciously drawn-out process of seduction. The artist’s double-exposure technique—borrowing from sources as varied as Edvard Munch, Victorian-era spirit photography, and the collage work of Peter Beard—allows the time lapses, bodily shifts, and psychological duality inherent in the sexual encounter with self to take physical form in the lush, large-format print.
While Stern’s images of Monroe can be seen as a last climactic orgy of star photography at its Hollywood height (2,571 shots were taken over a three-day period), with results both startlingly personal and distanced, White’s Second Giant Polaroids, pinned up like dark butterflies on the wall posit a world in which the voyeur is removed and subject and object become one—all the better for a slow, charged session of self-love.
Guiltless narcissism, blown up to (literally) gigantic proportions, opposes Monroe’s open vulnerability. As Arthur Miller once wrote of his dead bride: “To have survived, she would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. Instead, she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.” The self-made, monumental Natalie White may be far from reality, but she doesn’t need anybody to take her clothes off for her. Unknowable finally to all but herself, the muse awakens.
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