Larry Clark & Diane Arbus in Berlin

photo by Diane Arbus

I went to see the Larry Clark show at C/O Berlin and the Diane Arbus show at the Martin Gropius Bau here in Berlin, and the conclusion I came to is that Diane Arbus is a genius and Larry Clark is a pervert…

Critics of Arbus complain that she exploits people, but her “exploitation” feels quaint compared to Clark’s images of a pregnant woman shooting up heroin or all the hard-ons in his photographs. Maybe when I was fifteen I thought junkies were cool and interesting, but once you see how that sad game plays out in real life, it’s not so fascinating to look at in artwork. As for the hard-ons, I don’t have anything against them (!), but I wondered about the younger guys posing for the (now) aging Clark and how that dynamic played out when the camera wasn’t around. In this earlier work, he shot his peers, but now he’s a famous 50 or 60 year old photographer shooting 20 year olds. The dynamic is completely different. These more recent beefcakey images are what tipped the scales into pervy territory for me….you can almost smell the validation the younger guys gets from holding Clark’s attention. They’re just soaking it up. This made me uneasy, and all I could think was “creepy old man.”

Does this mean it’s just bad art, or has Clark simply succeeded in pushing my buttons? On the other hand, I wonder if time has simply made Arbus’ work easier to digest? In thirty years, will I think that Clark is a genius? I’m not sure.

As I left the Clark exhibition, I couldn’t help but think of Terry Richardson. Both of these photographers have histories of pretty extreme substance abuse/addiction, and both of these men create hyper-sexualized images that push people’s buttons. Let’s not forget that both of these men have also experienced significant recent success. Are they just giving the people what they want (sex, sex and more sex)? Their work specializes in that fast food kind of sexuality that’s so popular in America, but ultimately lacks any substance. Perhaps they are both just a passing fad and the photographers with integrity and intelligence (like Arbus) will outlive them all…

I’d like to think so.

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~ by Valerie Palmer on August 14, 2012.

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