Over her career, Catherine Opie has created a defining and powerful body of photographic work. Since the mid-1980s, Opie has been documenting the United States—its landscape and inhabitants—capturing a vast array of subjects, from freeways and football fields to the S/M community, surfers, children, and her neighbors and friends in South Central Los Angeles. Her straightforward approach to photography produces singular images that capture such complex aspects of human relations as intimacy, trust, and belief.
Elizabeth forms part of a series of portraits by Opie depicting those close to her, including other artists (Matthew Barney, Glenn Ligon, and Kara Walker among them). Opie has long made work involving her immediate community, and this new series marks both the continuity and expansion of her circle. Elizabeth features the choreographer and performer Elizabeth Streb, known for her experimental, athletically challenging contemporary dance. Opie has posed Streb against a black drop cloth and uses theatrical lighting to create a formally classical portrait that recalls seventeenth-century painting with allegorical dimensions. The arrangement renders certain details in extraordinarily intimate detail, as the eye is drawn to the sitter’s face, hand, necklace, and the floral motif on her shirt, which seem to emerge from utter darkness. In this series, Opie describes these creative individuals with a potency and focus that has become a defining feature of her oeuvre.
The portrait Elizabeth joins a landscape photograph by Opie in the ICA/Boston collection. Its acquisition enables the museum to represent her with salient work in both genres and to explore their connections, the very subject of the 2011 ICA exhibition Catherine Opie: Empty and Full. Furthermore, the addition of this work augments the museum’s growing strength in photography and portraiture and supports the recent acquisition of works by Rineke Dijkstra, Roe Ethridge, and Boris Mikhailov.