Deana Lawson’s intimate portraits invent new truths about her subjects

At MoMA PS1, the public discovers the whole evolution of Lawson’s profession, starting with the first remarkable works. Take, for example, Assembly (2010-present), which was also featured in MoMA PS1’s five-year “Greater New York” exhibition in 2010. Assembly features a collage of several hundred “personal” images – images that both belong to the artist and have been fabricated to look personal. The artwork is comprised of glossy four-by-six-inch photographs of celebrities, historic images, new portraits, and personal photos of Lawson and her family, reminiscent of the aesthetic of a teenage girl pinning pictures to the wall of his room. The photographic installation is changed each time it is displayed, including new memories and life changing each time. It surprises audiences by showcasing the kind of intimacy one can feel when looking through someone else’s personal photo album, cell phone, or memory box.

The intimacy created by Lawson brings out the strangeness of his subjects and the scenes they inhabit. A seminal example is Binky and Tony forever (2009), which served as the cover for musician Dev Hynes’ 2016 album (known as Blood Orange) Sound of Freetown. The image shows a couple kissing with ‘Tony’ sitting on the bed covered in a gold duvet and ‘Binky’ standing against him as she stares at the camera. The meticulously coordinated room – with mint-colored sheer curtains, a poster of Michael Jackson and yellow roses in a green bottle – belongs neither to Tony nor Binky, but to Lawson herself. Lawson made few changes to the piece to suit his subjects and thus demonstrates the limitations of photography as a marker of truth.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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