Hobson’s Choice: Catherine Opie at Stephen Friedman

7 December 2011 By
Director's Choice: Catherine Opie

Paul Hobson, Director of the Contemporary Art Society, recommends his favourite exhibition of the week.

Twelve Miles to the Horizon: Sunrises and Sunsets

23 November – 21 January 2012

Stephen Friedman Gallery, 25-28 Old Burlington Street, London W1S 3AN

Open Tuesday – Friday 10am – 6pm, Saturday 11am – 5pm


There are some great photographic shows on offer in the West End galleries at the moment, including at Stephen Friedman Gallery, which has just opened a new exhibition of early and current work by the much admired American photographer, Catherine Opie.  Opie came to critical attention in the early 1990’s with a body of portraits of gay, lesbian and transgendered men and women drawn from her circle of fellow artists and intimates in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Working across a wide range of subjects from LA freeways and house facades to high school football players, surfers in Mailbu and ice fishers in Minneapolis, Opie explores notions of identity and community and the way they shape one another through photographs of landscapes, cityscapes, still-lifes and lifestyles.  The front gallery shows a group of black and white portraits taken from the mid-1980’s through to the present – the `Girlfriends’ series (a play on Richard Prince’s biker girlfriends) – but it was the new body of seascapes in the back gallery that I found especially moving.   Commissioned by Hanjin Shipping, ‘Twelve Miles to the Horizon: Sunrises and Sunsets’ documents the artist’s journey on a Hanjin cargo vessel as it travels across the Pacific Ocean, from Korea to California.  Opie documented each sunrise and each sunset whilst living on board the ship for the 11 days that it took to make the journey.  The resultant work consists of several pairs of sunrise and sunset photographs connected by their shared horizon line.  The works are installed in the gallery in a way that suggests windows onto a shifting seascape of suns rising and setting, co-opting the gallery into a kind of travelling vessel and the viewer into a voyager.  Intuitively one senses with some melancholy the passage of time, of the shifting moods of awakening and receding, ultimately, of the fleeting nature of our own journey.  A still but powerful body of work.

Image: © Catherine Opie, Sunset 1, (detail) 2009, C-print, 127 x 95.3cm  (courtesy the artist and Stephen Freidman Gallery)

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