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Arne Svenson, Mrs. Ballard’s Parrots

White Columns
320 West 13th Street, Entrance on Horatio Street between 8th Avenue and Hudson Street, 212-924-4212
Chelsea
October 28 - December 3, 2005
Reception: Friday, October 28, 6 - 9 PM
Web Site


An archive of photographs, printed ephemera and film presented by the artist Arne Svenson. In 1992, Svenson was given several dozen snapshots by a friend, Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter Liza Todd Tivey. Originally sent to Taylor in the 1970s, the photographs depict the pet parrots of a Long Island housewife, Alba Ballard, dressed in handmade costumes and acting out scenes from movies and television shows of the day, such as Bonnie and Clyde, Liberace, Easy Rider, Batman, and the Sonny and Cher Show. Without any formal training as an artist, Mrs. Ballard, aided by her husband Marvin and her son Claudio, created photographic tableaux and 16mm films that embodied her fantasies, her humor, and her undoubted love for her parrots. As news of her costumed-parrots spread, minor celebrity ensued: Alba and her parrots eventually made appearances on the David Letterman Show, Saturday Night Live and in a small role in Woody Allen’s film Broadway Danny Rose. Alba Ballard died in 1994.

Extensive research by Svenson revealed not only the story behind Mrs. Ballard’s photographs, but he also turned up additional photographs, scrapbooks, news cuttings, and a vintage home movie of the parrots performing for the camera—selections of this material will be on display at White Columns. In a quote that appears on the dust jacket of Svenson’s book Mrs. Ballard’s Parrots (Harry N. Abrams, 2005) Cindy Sherman herself states: “When I’m really old and can’t use myself anymore, this is what I’ll be doing.”

Arne Svenson is a New York-based photographer whose work has been shown extensively in the United States and Europe. He is the author of Prisoners (Blast Books, 1997); Sock Monkeys (200 out of 1,863) (Ideal World Books, 2003); and Mrs. Ballard’s Parrots (Harry N. Abrams, 2005). His work was previously shown at White Columns in 2005 as a part of the exhibition Trade.

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