What is beauty and how is it defined in modern culture?
That is what The Annenberg Space for Photography has set out to answer in it’s latest exhibition “Beauty Culture” which opened this weekend. I attended the opening night party which was an A-list affair. Everyone from Halle Berry, Katie Holmes, Alek Wek, Daryl Hannah, Kirsty Hume, Peggy Moffit and Gisele Bundchen stopped by to fete the exhibition. Dita Von Teese gave a titillating performance - we would expect nothing less! In addition, there were plenty of featured photographers in attendance including Matthew Ralston, Melvin Sokolsky, Nino Munoz, Norman Jean Roy, Susan Anderson and Tyen.
The exhibition is a full-on analyzation of beauty and how it has evolved through the 20th and 21st centuries. Hundreds of images shot by legendary photographers such as Man Ray, Guy Bourdin, Herb Ritts, David LaChapelle, Ellen von Unwerth, Patrick Demarchelier,Terry Richardson are included. Topics such as “The Marilyn Syndrome,” “Pageant Culture,” and “Androgyny,” have been analyzed to create a social dialogue about beauty. Some of the most intriguing photos are the unexpected - the "dolled up" children's pageant shots and the plastic surgery tragedies. It leads you to imagine how the beauty ideal has changed and even been distorted over the years. And then of course there are the leading ladies of the silver screen, the super models and icons of pop culture - all of which have been captured and glamourized on film. From conventional to unconventional the show includes legendary beauties such as Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Bo Derek, Kate Moss, Kristen McMenamy, Grace Jones, Madonna, Venus Williams and Angelina Jolie.
Is it daring? Yes. Provocative? Most definitely. Controversial? Indeed. That is the nature of beauty with all its mystique and glamour, not to mention the hype created by the multi-billion dollar industries that surround it.
I highly recommend checking out the exhibition and be sure to watch the documentary short film created by Lauren Greenfield. It is quite fascinating. And for those wishing to explore the topic in more depth, the IRIS Night lecture series will present leading photographers, filmmakers and stylists who will discuss the pursuit of the capturing the feminine ideal.
“Beauty Culture” runs through November 27. For more information go to www.annenbergspaceforphotography.org.