Catherine Opie, called Cathy, may be one of this city's best known artists, certainly as a photographer, but too often people know her early 1990s work since it remains the most controversial: Portraits of gay and lesbian and transgender friends involved in S and M, in bondage, tattooed and pierced. For many people, it was their first encounter with such images -- and Opie presented it from an intimate perspective. Many were her friends. But that accomplishment can override much of her later work. This month, the Julius Shulman Institute at Woodbury University gives her an Excellence in Photography Award and a show at their Hollywood gallery that continue through March 24. Organized by independent curator Karen Higa and Emily Bills, who is the JSI director, it surveys Opie's series of photographs of the city of LA, from the 1994 freeways and the Beverly Hills mansions included in the 1996 Landscapes to the In and Around Home series of 2004 and the Shopkeepers of 2011. In all of these pictures, we can see Opie's profound commitment to the idea of a democratic society (she prides herself on being a daily subscriber to the LA Times, well-versed in politics at the most local levels) as well as the inherent appeal of the sprawling, surprising, built environment of L.A. For more information, go to Woodbury.edu.
These would seem to be a contrast to her photographs now on view at the Long Beach Museum of Art through March 24, Twelve Miles to the Horizon. These photographs were taken at sunrise and sunset for the ten days that she traveled on a container ship from Busan, Korea to the port of Long Beach. They capture passing time, the effects of light, and the fact that the human eye can only see the 12 miles to the horizon. Opie would get up at dawn and wait for that crucial moment when the sun would break over the surface of the water and repeat the same procedure at night. It is a gorgeous body of work. Go to LBMA.org. But at Regen Projects, on view to March 29, are new portraits based on 17th and 18th Century painting but incorporating friends as models, such as Lawrence Weiner or the Rodaarte designers. The show also includes new landscapes with a connection to the traditions of the sublime. Taken together, one would be hard pressed to think of a photographer of such diverse interests so effectively realized over time. For more information, go to RegenProjects.com. No more narrow categorization for Opie-watchers.
Banner image: Catherine Opie, "Untitled #34" from Freeway series, 1995. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles © Catherine Opie