12 February 2012

Rock & Roll & Abel in Allentown

Last night I attended the super hip preview party for two exhibits at the Allentown Art Museum:
"Who Shot Rock & Roll?" guest curated by author Gail Buckland
"The Mark of Abel" by Lydia Panas.
It was a hip crowd, hot music, good food and drink, and very, VERY impressive renovations to the Allentown Art Museum. What with the new hockey arena going in, the changes around and in Symphony Hall (both physical and in programming), the ambitious growth at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, I'm starting to believe that maybe the Lehigh Valley could become the arts destination it dreams of being. Wow! I'm surprised I said that, but I'm going to do some poking around and see what other people are saying, dreaming, hoping, and believing.

So, the party! The art exhibits!
"Who Shot Rock & Roll" is just bursting with color, shock, and motion. It's really an impressive show. There are works in it that have never been seen before. There are candid shots, backstage, at home, stepping off the plane. There are onstage images: Tina Turner in five blurred, overlapping silhouettes as she leapt and danced; the earliest photos of a very young Elvis; a virtuosic collage of Michael Jackson that practically danced by itself. There are album covers and portraits that are works of art in their own right. There is also violence, dirty nudity, obscenity, and sheer perversion. It's really a powerful show: don't see it right before bed, or you might have nightmares!

I think my favorite pieces were four close-up, black-and-white portraits of the Beatles by Richard Avedon. He somehow managed to capture nearly the same expression on each of their faces. They were clean, shy, expectant, before the rugged dust of fame greyed them.

Then the second exhibit I went to see was Lydia Panas's mysterious series, "The Mark of Abel." In these outdoor portraits of family relationships, Lydia washed out her subject's personalities, reducing everyone in the entire series into despairing, confused people with tragic histories and no futures. And yet they are still compelling, beautiful like rainy weather even when you wanted sun.

Her photographs are not narrative, but they provoke narratives. The photographer friend who attended the show with me, Nienke Izurieta, and I talked more about these images than about anything else in the museum. I found the titles thoughtful; Nienke explained to me the camera and exposures and focus, and we debated technique and content to our heart's content. So, go see it!



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