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Larry Fink's Artist Statement:
Lessons in Democracy and Demagoguery

 

NEW YORK, 23 August 2004It was time—the election was stolen, robbed by middlemen on top. Folks who thought the past was the future because they owned the present. Entitlement didn’t come from being lazy; it came from cunning, aggrandizing connivance. The leader was a twice entitled frat boy, a thick-headed intellectual goon, with charisma informed by homily and stubborn gotcha comfort.

It was simple! I was shooting fashion, perhaps a compromise for me, but a trivial, jovial, stylish, learning theater. Why not use its public accessibility for subversion, satire, association, and education?

An idea! One of my favorite periods in twentieth-century art was Weimar Germany, with Beckmann, Dix, and Grosz all melting down convention in an impassioned visionary way. Grosz was especially political, but all of the were hyper-aware of the decadence, the despair, the hysteria, and the lies. I suggested to The New York Times Magazine (whose rear end is sometimes gifted with fashion spreads) an idea to replicate the period but loosen it, update it, and tell it anew. There were fashion equivalents and certainly moral and historical ones.

Larry Fink: Homage to George Grosz
Larry Fink: Homage to George Grosz
Photo courtesy of The powerHouse Gallery


Oh the glee! They said yes. I suggested that rather than the corpulent Weimar German types, why not use our current fraudulent leaders, George W. and his cabinet. Oh the glee! They said yes. Political satire and critical acuity are something rarely if ever done in fashion. Yet another coup.

Larry Fink: Homage to George Grosz
Larry Fink: Homage to George Grosz
Photo courtesy of The powerHouse Gallery

We searched for the cast of dancers, whores, merrymakers, and priests. We searched for the look-alikes of our own Mr. G. W. and his consortium. We found it all and went to work. Five paintings chosen from the period and three days shooting them, interpreting them, and creating aesthetic clarity and political bedlam.

The pictures were shot on 7/19/01 and were hypothetically scheduled to run in The Times in the fall. 9/11 gave birth to doom. The tragic inevitable moment, the rupture of providence, the rape of the external soul of America. And its aftermath.

Larry Fink: Homage to Max Beckmann
Larry Fink: Homage to Max Beckmann
Photo courtesy of The powerHouse Gallery

Critical images of the president and his men would not be published. In fact, all critical thought was temporarily suspended and the fundamentalist Islamic conspiracy bore the turf for the fundamentalist neoconservative conspiracy that was already in wait for the history that would give it license and muscle. Its muscle is still prominent and will be for some time.

Larry Fink: Government on Crutches
Larry Fink: Government on Crutches
Photo courtesy of The powerHouse Gallery

As it became apparent that the presidential team was acting beyond the righteous knee jerk of antiterrorism, when the public critical spirit was on the rise, I offered the pictures again to The Times. No! The New Yorker. No! Harper’s Magazine. No! The European market I felt sure would publish them. But no. Like their influences, the images were banned, not by decree, but through a suppression enabled by tragedy and coincidence.

Larry Fink: Praise the Lord
Larry Fink: Praise the Lord
Photo courtesy of The powerHouse Gallery

Here in the halls of political science of Lehigh University, they speak their eye and tongue. They are free. But the ever-evolving question is, are we?

—Larry Fink 12/4/03
Artist statement from the Lehigh University exhibition of The Forbidden Pictures




Photojournalist Larry Fink began his career with a documentary on beatniks in the late 1950s. He was born in Brooklyn in 1941 and studied photography with Alexey Brodovitch and Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Currently a professor at Bard College, he has taught photography at Yale University, Parsons School of Design, Cooper Union, New School of Social Research, and New York University. He is represented by Bill Charles Inc. Fink has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Art, as well as in major retrospectives at Les Rencontres de Photographie, Arles, France; Musee de L’Elysee, Lausanne, Switzerland; and Musee de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium. His photographs have appeared in The New York Times, Art in America, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Time-Life Books, The New Yorker, and The Village Voice. The author of Boxing, Runway, and Social Graces (powerHouse Books, 1997, 2000, and 2001, respectively), Fink lives on a farm in Martin’s Creek, Pennsylvania.

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