JTF (just the facts): A total of 34 color photographic works, framed in white and matted, and hung against white walls in the divided gallery space. All of the works are made from vintage Kodak prints, ranging from single images to grids of 2, 4, 6, and 9 prints mounted together, made between 1974 and 1977. Each of the individual prints is sized 4.5×3.25 inches and all of the resulting works are unique. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Antonio Lopez is likely best known as a sought-after and innovative fashion illustrator, whose energetic drawings graced the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Elle, and the New York Times in the 1970s. The Puerto Rican-born artist, who went by the single moniker “Antonio”, lived a fast and flamboyant existence in Paris and later in New York (the upcoming documentary Antonio Lopez: Sex, Fashion & Disco chronicles his life (here)), and in his work, he was known for embracing models of color and actively making room for inclusive glamour outside the conservative mainstream.
Part of Antonio’s artistic process included taking snapshots, test poses, and more carefully arranged pictures of models and their surroundings, the Instamatic prints becoming important source material for his illustrations, and increasingly over time, stand alone artworks in and of themselves. This lively show gathers together a broad sampler of Antonio’s photography, from single images of bold faced names to more complex grids of photographs that turn a session (or casual moment) into a series of interrelated poses and looks.
Like Andy Warhol’s Polaroids, Antonio’s photographs are often flash lit and up close, making the face and upper body the central focus, with backdrops and surroundings reduced to flatness or uniform pattern. Many of his more famous subjects came from the world of fashion/design (Karl Lagerfeld, Charles James, Paloma Picasso), with images of the American actress Jessica Lange, the French actress Anouk Aimee, and the British photographer David Bailey proof that Antonio was moving within a wider crowd of art and glamour types as well. Many of the other single image portraits capture models and muses who he worked with again and again, particularly Pat Cleveland, Jerry Hall, and Tina Chow. In these pictures, we see the models trying on ephemeral personas, the intimacy and immediacy of the medium encouraging a quick vogue or an impromptu strut.
Antonio’s gridded works are much more complex. The most straightforward of these works play with the motif of the photobooth strip, turning 2 or 4 pictures taken in quick sequence into an arrangement where we can watch as time passes, poses change in subtle ways, or expressions wander. Jerry Hall and Grace Coddington peek out from behind jungle leaves. Pat Cleveland poses nude in a puffy red coat against a black and white striped background, doing a high contrast slow reveal of her shoulders and back, and we see her again in the tub, her face lifted out of the soapy water in 9 different ways. And Tina Chow curls up in a green silk dress like she has been stuffed into a box, the shimmery material shifting as she moves in the constrained space.
Antonio plays with a bold Pop Art aesthetic in several of the most compelling of his gridded works. Jerry Hall gazes into a clouded sky underneath the logos of McDonald’s and Exxon. Shoe studies use the trappings of photography (bright yellow Kodak boxes and a camera on a tripod) for their governing patterns. And a series of candy wrapper works echo the erotic kitsch of Mel Ramos, with nude models (both male and female, one of them the sultry Grace Jones) popping out of coppery foil and torn paper. In each case, fashion and consumerism are brashly intertwined, our desire for bodies and things seemingly becoming interchangeable.
Before the advent of see-as-you-go digital shooting, nearly every fashion photographer we can name used instant photography of some kind to test lighting, check poses, and get a feel for how things looked overall, so in many ways, Antonio’s pictures are just like many we have seen before, albeit with a more joyfully inclusive view of diversity. But when gridded together, Antonio’s photographs get beyond that functional imperative, edging toward stuttering fragments of time ganged into a new structure, the seemingly ordinary frames of a shoot turned into pieces of a larger multi-dimensional artistic puzzle.
Collector’s POV: The photographic works in this show are priced between $5000 and $20000, based on subject matter and the number of prints in the work. Lopez’ work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.