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The Cult of Personality: Portraits and Mass Culture

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Carriage Trade
62 Walker Street, 212 343 2944
Tribeca / Downtown
February 28 - March 30, 2008
Reception: Thursday, February 28, 6 - 8 PM
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featuring work by: Yasser Aggour Jennifer Dalton Vitaly Komar Bill Owens Sherrie Levine Paul McCarthy Ligorano/Reese Muntadas and Reese Karen Yama Julia Wachtel

As the U.S presidential campaign kicks into high gear, the exhibition “The Cult of Personality, Portraits and Mass Culture” investigates the relationship between celebrity and political personas within the context of mass media. In focusing on portraiture, a genre which privileges the relative psychological interest of its subject, this exhibition attempts to locate the manner in which the development of an identity for mass consumption adopts the traditional viewer/subject relationship, with the result that the viewer tends to “lose themselves” in the protectiveness or superiority of the featured personality.

Democratic societies, presumed to be free from totalitarian style cults of personality, often employ persuasion, seduction, and manipulation as part of a phenomenon known as “soft power”, a seemingly benign means of governmental influence on mass media whereby a citizen’s position is more or less co-opted through overwhelming saturation of “preferred” information. The influence on mass sentiment by public relations firms, lobbyists and the frequently used “anonymous” sources within the news, when taken as a whole, is usually dismissed as conspiratorial. But when considered in practical terms (success or failure), the effectiveness of a democratic government’s use of mass media to convince the public, for example, that it is in their best interest to go to war, recent history has proven these methods to be extremely reliable.

Depending on whether the goal is to make the subject appear “familiar” or “in charge”, remnants of various types of portraiture, from the snapshot to the honorific, are usually visible in the fabricated image of a politician or celebrity. While maintaining a significant relationship to the genre of portraiture, the artwork and archival material in “The Cult of Personality, Portraits and Mass Culture”, represents a broad range of responses to the creation of identity cults via mass media, offering critical and sometimes ironic commentary on the construction, dissemination, and consumption of larger than life figures within the public arena.

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