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Touring the Galleries of the Stars

Mary "Nerdia" Ladd and Julie "Coolia" Wiskirchen review the latest gallery shows by Leonard Nimoy and Julian Schnabel

Living in Los Angeles, we are keen to visit art shows by actors and directors. One the one hand, Hollywood can be ridiculously indulgent in heralding child's play; on the other hand, true talent and vision can cross multiple mediums sometimes. Either way, it's great to see. In regards to the latest shows by actor Leonard Nimoy and artist/director Julian Schnabel, this turned out to be a case of probably talented but this is not your best effort.


Nerdia on Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy, best known for his character Spock from the original Star Trek, has pursued a long-time love of photography, working on projects with female nudes. Pieces of his latest set, "The Full Body Project" were recently seen at the Louis Stern Fine Arts gallery in the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles.

Nimoy's aim seems to be to comment on the truth of beauty (or "articulation of beauty" as Nimoy's pompous artist statement puts it) with full-figured models. The problem is you get the sense this idea is supposed to be shocking. One local critic even commented that he witnessed some who were shocked by these images.

However there's nothing inherently shocking about large naked women. To find anything shocking about naked large women, like being shocked by a thin naked women, says more about you than anything the art is trying to do. There's nothing novel about a large naked women either. Feminist artists have been considering modern obsessions with weight deftly for years now. It's simply not new. Well, maybe in Hollywood, it's new. In any case, it's just not provocative at a base level.

So, as an artist you have to take it further. You have to show particular beauties in larger models. Or you must just simply take more time with it. What put me off of these photographs is how little care seemed to be taken with the models, their poses, their lighting, their backgrounds, their composition. It was almost as if the photographer himself was uncomfortable or disinterested in them.

Nimoy states he wanted to "Surrender control to discover a beauty unknown." As a feminist reader, I have to ask, "What's inherently unknown about their beauty?"  I would have preferred more active discovery from Nimoy, frankly. As it was, I was distracted by his backgrounds, harsh lighting and a cacophony of sloppy (what he called "joyous") poses. Running down his checklist of things to look for: I saw no interesting work on light and shadow, line and silhouette. I saw no visual rhythms and nothing interesting done with focus. I didn't even see the connections to Herb Ritts, Botticelli or Matisse that NPR art reviewer Edward Goldman mentioned in a feature that inspired me to view these photos in the first place.

All problems which serve ironically to reinforce our basic stereotypes about weight and beauty. I wish Nimoy had been more creative with his subject to form a cohesive message. Just the act of photographing large nudes is not a sufficient message in and of itself; and if you think it is - the project becomes exploitive, assuming we are so uncomfortable viewing a large naked form.

The Dove soap's "Real Beauty" marketing billboards were more provocative than this.

You can find better projects on Leonard Nimoy's photography site:

The Shekhina Project: http://www.leonardnimoyphotography.com/2photoshekhina.htm

The Classic Nudes series: http://www.leonardnimoyphotography.com/2photo.htm 

Coolia on Nimoy

As a Rubenesque woman myself, I found it kind of refreshing and exciting to see big gals in a contemporary gallery.  But like Nerdia, I didn't think Nimoy broke much new ground with this collection.  I wasn't sure why the nude women had to be grouped together in most of the photos. To me, this diminished the focus on the individual and lent the photos a slight "freak show" feeling.  Perhaps this was a nod to Botticelli paintings like this one. But the Boticelli nudes seem to frolic, and these nudes looked a bit morose.  They tended to have sad expressions on their face which I thought diminished their beauty and seemed to make a statement like "Yes, we're fat and we're naked, but we're not really psyched about it."  Nimoy claims in his statement that the women are joyous, but I didn't view them that way. Perhaps I'm just projecting, but I also think the dreary lighting added to the somber mood.  There were also a lot of cliche poses, like "ring around the rosy" type dances.  Maybe a few color photos would have livened things up.

I thought the most effective photos were the ones of the older nude solo.  There was interesting symmetry between the folds of skin and folds of fabric, and I felt these photos were truly beautiful.

Coolia on Schnabel

I've been mildly fascinated by Julian Schnabel ever since I first became aware of him in the pages of Vanity Fair magazine many moons ago. Yes, I was probably the only 14-year-old in suburban St. Louis who subscribed to Vanity Fair, but I was celeb-obsessed even then and pored over every issue whilst wishing I lived in NYC, LA, or Milan.  Julian's art was sometimes in the magazine, or he would interview other artists or actors. I thought he seemed cool and smart then, and I still do. He's a true renaissance man who has achieved notoriety in art, writing, and film. And he's kind of sexy in a slightly disheveled yet stylish way - like a teddy bear designed by Louis Vuitton.

So I was eager to finally see one of Julian's exhibits in person. "Christ's Last Day" opened at the Gagosian Gallery right before the Oscars, and the opening party was a star-studded affair.  I wonder what all the celebs found to say to Julian about the giant x-rays.  To me, they didn't illuminate much.  Basically, Julian found these old x-rays and blew them up into giant prints. I guess the scale makes you look at them in a new way, but that's about all I can say for what Julian brought to these found objects. We examined them up close and couldn't tell if they were silk screened or painted, so we asked the gallery attendant. She replied, somewhat sheepishly, "They are ink jet prints, but we're supposed to call them paintings."  I guess nobody really wants to spend $350,000 for an ink jet print (I mean - you'd except laser quality at least for that price, right?). 

I usually find the invocation of Christ in art that has nothing to do with Christ to be pompous.  I couldn't find a Jesus connection here. My only hypothesis would be to say perhaps he was commenting on Christ's humanity by magnifying these fragile bones and emphasizing the flaws and scratches on the old x-rays.  Knowing that Julian just printed these found objects also makes me question the artist's role in the creation, as I did at the mind-blowing Murakami exhibit at LACMA. Murakami basically has a factory creating his art. He had only actually touched one piece in the entire exhibition.  I guess if the artist is still coming up with the concept then he still has a role in the creation, but it does tend to leave me feeling a bit cold when I can't see the actual hand of the artist at work in the piece. 

Julian's art show was disappointing especially in light of the brilliance he displayed in his direction of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The cinematography of this film was breathtaking as it really put you in the head of the paralyzed stroke victim. Julian's direction was innovative and the film is, in my opinion, a work of art much greater than these giant x-rays.  Julian has said art is his day job and perhaps like most day jobs it just becomes mundane after a while. Seems to me he's putting his real creativity and artistry into his hobby - film making. 


Nerdia on Schnabel

Julian Schnabel's "paintings" did nothing to inspire me either. They too seemed considered with too little care, found X-rays, blown up, printed and placed in front of me as if I'm supposed to care. Only one seemed interesting in that it showed two leg bones looking like two ostrich heads. We searched everywhere for actual "paint" on these canvases called "paintings." We found no beauty, no truth, and no point.

Been to these art shows? What did ya think?


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