Volume 81, Number 8 | July 21- 27, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

 

FAMILY VALUE
Through August 5
At Michael Mazzeo Gallery
508 W. 26 St., Ste. 318 (btw. 10th and 11th Aves.)
Gallery Hours: Tues. and Thurs., 11am-5:30pm; Wed. and Fri., 11am-5pm; Mon. and Sat. by appointment
Call 212-741-6599 or visit michaelmazzeo.com

Photo by Jess T. Dugan

July 7: Opening night for “Family Value,” at Michael Mazzeo Gallery.

What’s the value, and face, of a family?
Portrait salon provides answers, prompts questions

BY LILY BOUVIER

“I didn’t want to propose the typical lightweight summer exhibition. I wanted something to make viewers stop and think,” says director Michael Mazzeo of his gallery’s current portrait salon “Family Value” — which opened on Thursday, July 7.

With New York’s passage of marriage equality fresh in our minds, Mazzeo’s choice of subject matter is both fresh and prophetic. “For decades, ‘family values’ has been the rhetorical battle cry of the political and religious right, [of] everyday bigots. But their definitions of marriage and family certainly don’t reflect those of my family,” explains Mazzeo. “So, I decided to show work that might offer a broader interpretation.”

Spurred a few months back by his frustration at yet more stalling over the Marriage Equality Act, Mazzeo began putting together the exhibit. “Hrvoje Slovenc’s portraits of long-term, same-sex couples were an early influence for this show,” he recalls. “Staged as traditional wedding portraits, the couples were photographed at home wearing outfits they would wear if they could legally marry. Looking at these, you simply can’t understand why they would be denied that right.”

But Mazzeo wanted the show to “raise questions not only about marriage, but [also about] the broader topic of family.” Indeed, the 22 participating artists touch upon all sorts of familial issues and relationships through photography, drawing, collage, hand embroidery and installation pieces.

Katharina Lepik’s “Sisterness” is a compilation of portraits of the artist posing with people who look like her, in similar dress and stance. It’s a reminder that family is just as much chosen as predetermined — that the people closest to us, and most like us, often share no biological connection.

Jess T. Dugan’s “Self-portrait with mom, 2005” and “Self-portrait with mom, 2010” depict the artist alongside her mother. In both shots, Dugan and her mom stand naked — looking boldly ahead with shared expressions of strength. The first image, in black and white, immediately after the artist’s top-surgery, shows her still in stitches and tape. The second image, taken five years later, is in color. Dugan plans to continue photographing this same pose, year after year, documenting their changes, their constants and their enduring connection. “I don’t think you can make a stronger statement about family bonds than this,” Mazzeo remarks on Dugan’s work.

Referring to these photos (and to her larger project “Trancendance,” from which they are taken), Dugan says, “I want the viewer to recognize a part of themselves in my photographs, regardless of their identity or background…[to see] that while we all have our differences, there is something burning, recognizable and alive in each of us.”

It is this connection and familiarity that gives “Family Value” its power. The exhibit not only challenges what family can look like physically, but also what it can entail emotionally. It recognizes that to each of us, family may mean love and joy, tears and rage — or solemnity and solitude.

“I wanted to reveal,” Mazzeo reflects. And he succeeds. Once a term of disparagement and slander, this interpretation of family values reasserts the concept as a way to characterize our most intimate connections.

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