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Duane Michals: The Adventures of Constantine Cavafy

Ukiyo-e: Pictures from the Floating World

November 17, 2005–January 14, 2006

32 East 57th Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY


Installation Views

Selected Works

Pace/MacGill Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition featuring two new bodies of work, “The Adventures of Constantine Cavafy” and “Ukiyo-e: Pictures from the Floating World,” by Duane Michals. The “Cavafy” series (2003-05) is comprised of multiple picture sequences; each sequence includes, on average, ten gelatin silver prints measuring 5 x 7 inches with hand written text. Inspired by the writings of Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933), the series depicts fictitious scenes from Cavafy’s life as imagined by Michals. Michals’s friend, actor Joel Grey, is cast as Cavafy. Also on view for the first time are pictures from the series “Ukiyo-e: Pictures From the Floating World” (2005). Composed of single, 11 x 14 inch chromogenic photographs, the series explores what Michals describes as “the real world of appearances in which we live” and reflects the aesthetic and philosophical spirit of traditional Japanese prints. Adjacent to the photographs Michals has written epigrammatic prose and poems to accompany the images.

Rather than illustrating Cavafy’s poems, Michals adopts a writer’s role and authors visual stories and text about Cavafy himself. Michals’s sequences depict the unfolding of moments or events in which the poet is envisioned to participate. Michals’s own identification with Cavafy adds a personal dimension to an already intimate body of work: the “Cavafy” series explores religion, friendship, the creative process, and erotic desire. This is Michals’s second series to focus on Cavafy as a subject; his first was “Homage to Cavafy” (1978). Although he has previously used color film for commercial projects, “Ukiyo-e: Pictures from the Floating World” marks the first occasion that Michals has used color in his private work. Images from this series describe discrete moments with the powerful brevity of Japanese haiku: a bird is freed from its cage, a man plays cards, a sudden breeze passes, a flower blossoms, an actor becomes sad.

Duane Michals (b. 1932, McKeesport, Pa.) received a BA from the University of Denver in 1953 and worked as a graphic designer until his involvement with photography deepened in the late 1950s. Michals made significant, creative strides in the field of photography during the 1960s. The sequences, for which he is widely known, appropriate cinema’s frame-by-frame format. Comprised of single, small-scale gelatin silver prints, each sequence depicts the unfolding of an event or reveals various perspectives on a specific subject. Michals has also incorporated text as a key component in his single and multipart works. Mixing fragility with strength, gravity with humor, and the mundane with the unexpected, Michals’s work touches upon universal themes such as love, desire, memory, death, and immortality.

Over the past four decades, Michals’s work has been exhibited in the United States and abroad. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, hosted Michals’s first solo exhibition (1970), and a year later the George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y., mounted another (1971). More recently, he has had one-person shows at the Odakyu Museum, Tokyo (1999), and the National Gallery of Canada, Ontario (2000). In 2005 his photographs were featured in “Big Bang: Destruction and Creation in Art of the 21st Century,” at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and “Recent Acquisitions: Some Versions of the Portrait” at the International Center of Photography, New York.

In recognition of his contributions to photography, Michals has been honored with a CAPS Grant (1975), a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1976), the International Center of Photography Infinity Award for Art (1989),and the Foto España International Award (2001). Michals is also an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters, an award bestowed by the French Government in 1993.

Michals's work belongs to numerous permanent collections in the U.S. and abroad, including the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His archive is housed at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

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