Alec Soth's Archived Blog

July 9, 2007

Pam and Tod

Filed under: Pamela Anderson,Papageorge — alecsothblog @ 4:27 pm

Hermosa Beach #6, 1976 by Tod Papageorge

In the introduction to his series of California Beach pictures, Tod Papageorge writes:

We all carry a picture of Hollywood around in our minds, picked up from the movies and the shreds of scandals we’ve heard about. And if we’re men and under forty, even the best of us treasures an image of the California surfer girl. What I wanted to do on this project was examine those preconceptions and describe what two semi-myths – Hollywood and the life of southern California beaches – really looked like.

In his review of a Papageorge’s exhibition in 1981, Andy Grundberg wrote about his depiction of women:

Papageorge’s photography is pervaded by sensuality. One finds it here not only on the beaches, where skin is displayed with seeming nonchalance, but also on the Acropolis, where young American tourists stand idly in tight cut-off jeans, or behind the refreshment table of a woman’s road race. Unfortunately, Papageorge is too self-conscious to let his penchant for sexual suggestiveness run riot, so he often undercuts it with the inclusion of a foolish gesture or an incongruous detail.

This self-consciousness, ultimately, is Papageorge’s biggest enemy, for it accounts for the principle shortcomings of these pictures. One is that the formal strategies he employs seem arbitrary. When he tilts the frame, we are inescapably reminded of Winogrand. This works when Papgeorge’s camera is looking up a woman’s skirt, since it references us to Winogrand’s consummately sexist book ”Women Are Beautiful,” but otherwise it looks willful, educated and arch.

Central Park, 1991 by Tod Papageorge

Papageorge’s recent publication, Passing Through Eden, certainly includes pictures of scantily clad gals. I believe some of the pictures were included in the exhibition that Grundberg refers to. But in this context, his depiction of sexuality steers clear of sexism. With his brilliant sequencing and overall themes of sensuality and temptation, Papageorge’s girlie pictures aren’t just honest – they are essential. They are also balanced by some beefcake:

Central Park, 1982 by Tod Papageorge

May 3, 2007

Art & Dubai

Filed under: Pamela Anderson — alecsothblog @ 10:28 pm

Yesterday, the Mirror reported that Tommy Lee and ex-wife Pamela Anderson are buying a luxury home together in Dubai. Lee and Anderson bought “Greece” – one of the three hundred man-made islands forming The World off the coast of Dubai:


We’re going for Greece because I’m Greek originally, says Lee, “Pamela actually turned me on to the whole thing. Life is good now. I’m happy because I’m seeing my boys again.”

Once again, where Pamela goes, the art world follows.

In the May issue of Modern Painters, Matthew Collings writes about visiting the first Dubai DIFC Art Fair:

Pampered seminude white people cross my field of vision, give the Indians a glance, and disappear, and just as I’m thinking, “Wow, Martin Parr, great capturer of new social stereotype situations, should be here photographing all of this,” Martin Parr himself appears and takes a picture.

Dubai. 2007. Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

The way people dressed and their demeanour was very Bling,” writes Parr on the Magnum Blog, “not a word I have encountered much, but you know it when you see it.”

But the highlight for Parr wasn’t the blue-chip art:

Just before I left I was taken to a small souk in Sharjah where they actually sell things old, not an easy thing to locate in Dubai. There, to my amazement, was a fantastic selection of Saddam Hussein plates, vases and ornaments…So I returned, rather pleased with myself, with a huge bag full of Saddam pottery.

In the Modern Painters article, Matthew Collings talks about the “transubstantiation of bilge into stuff of awe.” But the bilge he’s talking about isn’t cultural ephemera like Saddam pottery:

It’s only a matter of time before the emirates’ superrich have the same funny relationship to contemporary art that we have in the West: alienated familiarity. We’ve gotten used to a spectacular culture of art in which we both question the bullshit and buy the bullshit. The bullshit is bullshit but at the same time it’s a status symbol: “Look at me! I own the bullshit they’re all questioning!” This is the paradox the art-fair people are now in the process of selling to the wealthiest people in the world.

May 2, 2007

Art & Borat

Filed under: aesthetics,Pamela Anderson — alecsothblog @ 5:51 pm

My recent post on Pamela Anderson got me thinking again about Borat. I was one of the last people to see the movie a couple of months ago. While I found the filmmaking to be truly one-of-a-kind, the overall sensibility seemed familiar. Crude, confrontational and deeply cynical, Baron Sacha Cohen’s view of the world reminded me of a lot of contemporary art.

I suppose I should say modern art. Ever since Duchamp there has been a long line of provocative pranksters in the art world. I suspect Borat would get a kick out of Manzoni’s Shit Cans. But the first artist to come to mind was Maurizio Cattelan:


In an interview with Sculpture Magazine, Andrea Bellini asks Cattelan about his creative persona:

Andrea Bellini: Listen, I don’t mean to be blunt, but even in that case some people said you were a real con-man. You organized fake biennials in the Caribbean, you attached a dealer to the walls of his gallery with Scotch-tape, you copied the show of another artist in every detail, you sold your space at the Venice Biennial to a publicity agency that was launching a new perfume, you denounced the robbery of an invisible work of art of yours to the police, you slashed Zorro’s “Z” into a painting, imitating Fontana’s cuts, you had a 300-year-old tree grow right through a flashy new Audi car. Who is Maurizio Cattelan, a court jester, a liar, or a con-man?

Maurizio Cattelan: A jester? I’ve been trying to say serious things for a lifetime, but nobody ever believes me. A con-man? I never robbed anyone, never committed perjury, never committed immoral acts. A liar? I don’t believe in a single truth, only in an infinite combination of possibilities. I’m a bundle of contradictions, just like everyone else.

‘him’ 2001 © Maurizio Cattelan

“I like publicity: beautiful images, lots of girls. But I don’t think that Hitler was a publicity stunt. He wasn’t trying to sell anything. On the contrary, it was a rough image about peeling off masks and roles.” Maurizio Cattelan

While Cattelan’s vision can be dark, it doesn’t leave me with the same kind of rot gut that I get from Borat. A number of jaded artists come to mind (Mike Kelly, The Chapman Brothers, Jason Rhodes, Sean Landers, Charles Ray, Paul McCarthy), but the one I keep coming back to is Richard Prince. First there is the cynical humor:

Jokes, 1999-2000 by Richard Prince

Then there is the social commentary/provocation:

Spiritual America, 1983, by Richard Prince

Finally, like Borat, Richard Prince has a thing for Pamela Anderson. He’s made devotional art:

untitled (Bruce Willis, Daryl Hannah, Pamela Anderson), 1999 by Richard Prince

He’s even gotten Pam into the Kazakh Wedding Sack:


Like Borat, Prince’s vision of the world leaves me spinning. On the one hand, I find his technique dazzling. It has also been influential. I doubt I would have collected the Niagara love letters if it weren’t for him.

For the record, Richard Prince owns one of these letters:

I can’t go on like this 2005, by Alec Soth

This is one of the nastiest pictures I’ve ever produced. While editing NIAGARA, I deleted it from the main sequence of images. The project was already dark, but this image and a couple of others seemed to overwhelm the book in nihilism.

While I laughed along with everyone else at Borat, the movie left me sick to my stomach. The fans at the rodeo are a part of America, but they aren’t America. Same with Prince’s biker-chicks. As much as I respond to the work, I hesitate to give myself over to it. Pamela can have Richard Prince (and Kid Rock and Tommy Lee). I’ll take my wife, please.

April 30, 2007

Art & Pam

Filed under: Pamela Anderson — alecsothblog @ 2:12 am

I’m struggling to digest all of the art I’ve seen in the last week, much less regurgitate it on the blog. Looking for help, I’ve turned to the guru of American abundance, Pamela Anderson:

“I don’t really think about anything too much. I live in the present. I move on. I don’t think about what happened yesterday. If I think too much, it kind of freaks me out.” Pamela Anderson

It kind of freaks me out too. The gluttony started in the belly of the beast: Chelsea. There was a lot of caca on display, but the absolute worst was Sante D’Orazio at the Stellan Holm Gallery. D’Orazio showed thirty-two pictures of a young Latina model scantily clad in a Catholic schoolgirl uniform. The project is called Katlick School (the model’s name is Kat….get it). Does this all sound a little shallow. No way. Read what D’Orazio said about the project on Page 6 of the New York Post:

The book is about a young girl going into her own womanhood and the outfit is only a symbol of purity which is transformed into a symbol of the bad girl. It’s really all about symbolism and mythology. Every artist I’ve shown the book has been blown away.

(If you really want to be blown away, watch this cartoon about the project on Gawker)

This is D’Orazio’s second show at Stellan Holm. The first was nude pictures of Pamela Anderson. In an interview on, Ms. Anderson described the show:

I like the experience of being in a shoot, and I’m a total exhibitionist, but I don’t like to look at them. Sante sent me some on my computer, and I was kind of blown away. I can’t imagine them blown up.

D’Orazio isn’t the first to blow up pictures of Anderson for the galleries. Marilyn Minter currently has a photograph of Anderson in a group show at Smith-Stewart. Here Anderson talks about working with Minter on her online diary:


Anderson should be flattered. Minter is a thousand times more interesting than D’Orazio. She’s as interested in the freckles as the fantasy.

“I’ve always been interested in people with so-called flaws,” Minter says in this video interview with CreativeTime.

Unarmed (Pamela Anderson) by Marilyn Minter

After Chelsea I made a trip up to MOMA and saw the Jeff Wall retrospective. It was the perfect antidote to D’Orazio. I’ve always liked the work of Wall, but I’ve been skeptical of the lightboxes. Seeing them isolated in a collection, they always struck me as trying too hard. But with the brilliant installation at MOMA, I was able to forget the apparatus and enter the pictures. I even liked the size.

“Size does matter. There’s a lot of ways to make people feel good, but personally I think it does enhance things.” Pamela Anderson

In 1991, Vince Aletti wrote an excellent article on big photographs. “For too many photographers bigger is not better,” he said, “a weak image doesn’t suddenly look important when it’s blown up to the size of a store window.” Wall’s images aren’t weak, but they sometimes feign weakness. The size of the prints seems essential to understanding this dynamic.

I’ve probably seen Wall’s ‘Picture for Women’ reproduced a thousand times. But until seeing the 5×7 foot image at MOMA, I never really felt the presence of Wall’s bicep while he clicked the shutter. This detail seems essential:


After admiring Wall’s muscles, I visited the Taryn Simon show at the Whitney museum. I’d recently acquired Simon’s book, ‘An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.’ The book is so good that it almost makes an exhibition unnecessary. But, like Wall, Simon leans toward the conceptually chilly. So her surprisingly sensual prints can be a relief. I was especially touched by the details in her print of Kenny the retarded Tiger:

White Tiger (Kenny) Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge Eureka Springs, AR. by Taryn Simon

I left New York surprising optimistic about photography. Wall and Simon had my head in the conceptual clouds. But I was quickly brought back down to earth after visiting Art Chicago. As usual, the toxic mix of money and decontextualized art was nearly devastating. For the record, I think these fairs have a lot of good work and I’m grateful for the business that gets done. I’m just not sure it is healthy for artists to spend much time watching this business get done.

“I’m not an actress. I don’t think I am an actress. I think I’ve created a brand and a business.” Pamela Anderson.

It is easy to become cynical. After too much time at the fair, you begin wondering if the successful artists are the ones who’ve devoted themselves to branding and business. So thank God for Chicagraphy. On Saturday night I attended the opening of an excellent exhibition curated by Brian Ulrich and Jon Gitelson. The organic mix of good art and MGD (in cans, of course) helped erase my art fair cynicism.

“I found I could be happy and throw up at the same time.” Pamela Anderson

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