States of Union at the Morgan Lehman Gallery in New York City

Morgan Lehman is pleased to present States of Union, photographs by Alix Smith. This is her first solo exhibition with the gallery. Acutely aware of being different in a world of New York society, Smith struggled for years with her identity as a lesbian and an artist. For that reason, a common thread in much of Smith’s work has been the theme of identity: her subjects’ perceived and expected identity versus their true selves. For the project Constructed Identities, Smith asked friends from privileged backgrounds to dress as if they were going to work or dinner. The result was a series of portraits revealing what The New York Times called, “a triumph of custom over self expression.”
For Smith, States of Union is a continuation of her exploration of identity. As she came to terms with her sexual orientation, Smith found herself searching for positive role models within the gay community. Media attention on events like the gay pride parade made her wonder why there weren’t more representations of gay couples living “familiar” day to day lives. While portraiture has been used for centuries to memorialize the family lineage, these visual depictions have focused almost entirely on the heterosexual family unit. Gay families, with almost no history of depiction, do not have this same pronounced and illustrated legacy.
Smith conceived of a project that would not only provide the role models she so craved, but would also contribute to the current cultural debate around homosexual unions by finding monogamous and stable exemplars. She sought out long-term couples, and using visual tropes borrowed from references like the Saturday Evening Post and Old Master portraiture, injected her images with clues that are emblematic of security, monogamy and convention. For example, one piece depicts a gay couple posing with their family dogs – a symbol of loyalty – in front of a traditional brick hearth. Another image has a woman lowering pearls, once a popular wedding gift in Renaissance Europe, into the hands of her life partner. These images are meant to seem overtly familiar to the viewer as the artist attempts to redefine the conventional definition of family. States of Union will be on view at Morgan Lehman from September 10 to October 10, 2009.

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