Art in America April 1990


Pleasure is there for the plucking in David LaChapelle’s large Cibachrome prints. This photographer is committed In his love of the human body. He places his nudes in unabashedly lush settings and his colors have buoyant warmth of their own. One critic notes that LaChapelle blurs distinctions between photography and painting. The bounties of beauty, as codified by Renaissance artists, the Pre-Raphaelites and popular 19th-century illustrators, is here earnestly naked.

Yet the nudity also signifies innocence, cleansing, spirit. In fact, the body becomes a symbol for transfiguration between earth and spirit. Like the Shakers or other late 19th-century adherents of spiritual revival, the figures here are never idle, though neither are they demonstrative. Within a naïve search for truth, they are actively engaged in discovery. Stripped of austerity, they gracefully become a basic element. The subject becomes the alchemy of transformation.

With “Result of Inspiration/Effect of Heat” one might be reminded of Village poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s line about burning a candle at both ends. Even in thought or meditation, LaChapelle’s figures are on fire. In “Lord of Land, Sea and Air/Flag of Invincible Righteousness” a well-shaped young man holds a golden pole with golden fabric blowing in a fresh wind on a panoramic rocky coast. Combined with the natural beauty is an heroic triumph or ascent.

Many of the human figures are also golden. This emphasizes the spiritual concern with transformation, but also the preciousness of the human body. In the large construction, “If Golde rust, what should iren doo ?”, 20 prints of golden body parts-a head, finger, heart, eye, the head of a penis- become ex votos, a hope for a cure. All of these works are framed in iron, which is attractive while alluding to ideas of time and material. This is LaChapelle’s sixth solo exhibit in New York since 1984. His work has received wide attention in the art of press with strong opinions on either side.

Text By David Hirsh

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