Rear View (Geoffrey Beene Fashion Show), 1990
Zoe Leonard (b. 1961, Liberty, New York) is widely acclaimed for foregrounding the identity-making power of photography. Many of her photographs classify, frame, and order visual materials into object schemas—associating like with like, and drawing similarities between related subjects. Leonard’s approach often assigns significance to urban imagery—storefronts, graffiti, signage, and clubs. Frequently using New York City as a symbol, the artist has subsequently turned her attention to popular culture worldwide, meditating on globalization and geography. In a significant work created for Documenta IX (1992), Leonard removed all the paintings depicting men from the walls of the Neue Galerie in Kassel, leaving only those featuring women. These vacant places were replaced with small, close-up black-and-white photographs of the artist’s friends’ vulvas. Leonard has frequently engaged activist groups including ACT UP, GANG, and Fierce Pussy that create a link between radical action and visual representation.
Rear View (Geoffrey Beene Fashion Show) is one of a group of images shot by the artist at fashion shows; other images of this group include View from Below (Geoffrey Beene Fashion Show), Legs (Geoffrey Beene Fashion Show), and Frontal View (Geoffrey Beene Fashion Show), all 1990. This provocative, black-and-white photograph captures a model from below, offering a voyeuristic up-skirt gaze. In her work, Leonard addresses the photographer’s position of power, controlling how the female body is ultimately depicted and represented. The implied assertion of power of the photographer’s gaze—its voyeurism and sexualization—is heightened in contrast to the staid reputation of Beene, who was one of the best-known New York designers of the 1980s, and dressed American First Ladies like Lady Bird Johnson, Nancy Reagan, and Pat Nixon.
Zoe Leonard received the 2014 Bucksbaum Award from the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Her work has been featured in international solo exhibitions including at the Art Institute of Chicago; The Kitchen, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; MoMA PS1, Long Island City; MUMOK Museum of Modern Art, Vienna; and Tate Liverpool. Leonard’s work is held in the collections of the Dallas Museum of Art; Denver Art Museum; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Tate Modern, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among many others.