Last week, I went to see “Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich” at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in River North. For those of you who haven’t heard, photographer Sandro Miller has an entire show playing homage to 38 or so famous photos where John Malkovich plays the central character in every one. For instance, Malkovich plays the Migrant Mother in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother from the Great Depression. Or he’s Einstein sticking his tongue out. Or he’s Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe.
So naturally, I had to go see it. I thought it was a lot of fun actually. First, there were several photos where I was shocked that it was in fact John Malkovich. He really blended in so well that if you put the Miller photo and the original photo next to each other, I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The Einstein one was a great example of that. There are these four photos of Malkovich as the Joker where he really looked like Jack Nicholson.
Second, it was neat to see how the painting change when you change the central person in the work. For instance, I was drawn to the homage of Art Shay’s photo of Simone de Beauvoir standing naked in high heels in the bathroom. In Miller’s photo, Malkovich stands naked in the same stance as her with heels. I thought it was the most striking of the entire exhibition. It’s such a beautiful photo celebrating the male body in day to day rituals.
Third, there were many photos that I didn’t recognize. So it was a little bit of a quick photography history lesson. There was this amazing photograph of a man in suit holding a defeathered chicken with a bowtie. The original was of Alfred Hitchcock! The photo suits him so well. I’m glad to know that I live in a world where such a photo exists. And now there is a version of Malkovich replicating it. Fantastic.
Now there has been some discussion about whether this entire project was just a joke or something serious. Sandro Miller, photographer, said, “My biggest fear was that people wouldn’t take this project seriously. I didn’t want these to be a parody,” Miller said in the statement: “I was serious about paying homage to these photographers and photographs that changed my perspective on photography. These images inspired me throughout my career and developed me into the photographer I am today … This is my way of saying thank you to the masters that created these amazing images.”
Personally, I think he’s succeeded. I think they are homages, not just mere jokes. They are funny but it’s not a skin deep humor. I think he has chosen some fascinating works and executed them in a thoughtful manner. These weren’t slapped together (or at least to my eye) for a quick laugh. I think that he’s made some interesting riffs on these photos and helped to add to the discussion about them (i.e. the Simone de Beauvoir one). I also couldn’t help thinking about Cindy Sherman, a photographer, who develops personas and disguises and photograph herself in these wild, sometimes unsettling, situations. I need to read more about her but I feel that there is some of that same exploration of roles, personality, and gender going on with Sandro Miller’s work. (Mind you, I don’t think Cindy Sherman was included in the exhibition, which seems strange to me).
Anyway, it was quite a fascinating exhibition. It runs until January so you have some time to check it out!