Press release

Catherine Opie: Empty and Full opens April 15 at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston

Exhibition presents new work on view for the first time

Related programs include talk with Opie and Eileen Myles as well as discussion with historian and New Yorker writer Jill Lepore

Boston, Mass.—This spring, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston opens Catherine Opie: Empty and Full, an exhibition of new and recent work by photographer Catherine Opie. One of the defining artists of her generation, Opie is known for her portraits and landscapes. In this exhibition, Opie has taken photographs of recent political demonstrations and gatherings—ranging from the inauguration of President Obama to Tea Party rallies. Her work explores the intimate relations between community and politics, citizens and the landscape, offering a dynamic portrait of the United States at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Organized by ICA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth, Catherine Opie: Empty and Full is on view at the ICA from April 15 through Sept. 5, 2011.

Catherine Opie: Empty and Full is a timely exhibition by an important artist, whose work continues to pose and frame questions about the most basic human values: love, community, family, and freedom,” says Jill Medvedow, director of the ICA.  

“Opie’s recent work elaborates on the relationship between people and place, particularly the energy and desires created when masses of people convene around a shared interest or value,” says Molesworth. “Freedom of assembly is one of the rights Americans take for granted and Opie is interested in the way that sites, such as the National Mall in Washington, D.C., come to be defined by the groups of people who assemble there and how their gathering shapes the identity of the place. Drawing on the long and august tradition of American landscape painting and documentary photography, Opie ultimately gives us a picture of a great experiment: democracy in action.”

The first series is entitled Inauguration and documents the enormous crowds that convened in Washington, D.C., for President Barack Obama’s inauguration. These images show us portraits of Americans assembled en masse on the Mall, bundled up against the January cold to await the arrival of the new president. Shot against a landscape of pale winter light and bare trees, Opie’s photographs capture moments of individual emotion on a day that recognized the hopes and voices of an American majority.  

Other works are images of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the annual convening of the Boy Scouts of America. These works further Opie’s interest in the specific use made of the landscape, as well as her ideas about the wide variety of ideals and beliefs held by Americans in their pursuit of a meaningful life. These lush and pastoral images are held in contrast with images Opie has been taking of political protests in urban areas, notably Tea Party rallies, pro-immigration marches, and anti-war demonstrations. A comparison is made between urban and rural, pleasure and protest, leisure and commitment, all of which add up to a rich and complex view of the United States, our citizens and our deeply engrained relationship to the landscape.

Installed around the perimeter of the ICA gallery is a series of devastatingly beautiful images of the ocean. These images, from a body of work called Twelve Miles to the Horizon, were taken over a period of ten days, one at every sunrise and one at every sunset, from the deck of a massive container ship making the passage from Busan, Korea, to Long Beach, California. These pictures of sunrises and sunsets all share the same horizon line, are radically unpopulated, and are feats of technical precision and sublime beauty. Their “emptiness” stands in stark contrast to the fullness of the political pictures.

Despite the formal differences between the two “types” of images on view in Empty and Full, there is also a strain of continuity. In each body of work, Opie suggests a profound level of interconnection and interdependence that people have not only with one another, but with the spaces we collectively inhabit.

Artist bio
Born in 1961 in Sandusky, Ohio, Catherine Opie has become one of America’s premier documentarians, photographing the American landscape—from its Alaskan glaciers to its suburban freeways—as frequently as she images its citizens. A graduate of Cal Arts, she currently teaches in the studio program at the University of California at Los Angeles. Select solo exhibitions include Catherine Opie: Figure and Landscape at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2010), Catherine Opie: American Photographer at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (2008), Catherine Opie: Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2006). Opie was a 2009 recipient of the President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Women’s Caucus for Art and was awarded a United States Artists Fellowship in 2006.

The exhibition is made possible with the generous support of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Mark and Marie Schwartz, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, Sandy and Les Nanberg and Regen Projects.

Exhibition-related programs

Artist Talk
Catherine Opie in conversation with Eileen Myles and Helen Molesworth
Thursday, April 14, 6:30 pm
$15 nonmembers; $13 members and students
Capturing iconic images of the American citizenry and landscape, photographer Catherine Opie explores the heterogeneity of the United States—from the high school football player to the San Francisco lesbian, the Alaskan glacier to the suburban freeway. Boston-born writer Eileen Myles has published more than a dozen volumes in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and theater. In 2010, the Poetry Society of America awarded her the popular Shelley Award for her writing genius. Her writing has explored everything from the iconic playground of downtown New York in the 80s to post-punk queer identity to the poets of Reykjavik, Iceland. Opie and Myles will be joined by ICA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth to discuss their latest work. Please note: ticket-holders enjoy early access to the galleries on April 14 (one day prior to the public opening).

Jill Lepore in conversation with Helen Molesworth
Thursday, April 28, 7 pm
ICA Water Café
$10 nonmembers; $8 members and students
In conjunction with the exhibition, American scholar Jill Lepore and ICA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth discuss America’s Constitutional Right to Assembly and its representation by artists from the Revolutionary War to the present. Lepore, professor of American Studies at Harvard University, is a contributing writer for The New Yorker. Her book “New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Gallery Talks
All gallery talks are free with museum admission

Helen Molesworth on Catherine Opie
Sunday, May 8, 2 pm
Thursday, May 26, 6 pm

Timothy McCarthy on Catherine Opie
Sunday, June 19, 2pm
Learn more about America’s constitutional rights to assemble, as seen in Catherine Opie’s work, in this provocative discussion with historian Timothy McCarthy. McCarthy is Lecturer on History and Literature, Adjunct Lecturer on Public Policy, and Director of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School. 

Stephen Tourlentes and Amber Davis Tourlentes on Catherine Opie
Sunday, June 26, 2 pm
Like Catherine Opie, artists Stephen Tourlentes and Amber Davis Tourlentes explore the ever-changing identity of America through photography. Steve’s haunting images of maximum security prisons and “death houses,” provide a paradoxical view of our relationship to these institutions and their impact on the landscape—both physical and social.  Amber’s photographs investigate the breadth of contemporary families beyond the nuclear family’s idealized constructions of gender, sexuality, and class. Join these two local photographers as they relate their work to Opie’s most recent series addressing anti war demonstrations, immigration protests, Tea Party gatherings, and Proposition8. Stephen Tourlenteswas a 2010 finalist for the ICA’s James and Audrey Foster Prize.

In the ICA Store

Limited-edition prints
In cooperation with the artist, the ICA has created small-scale reproductions of Untitled #5 (Inauguration Portrait) and Sunrise #6, both original works by Catherine Opie on view in the exhibition. Both are pigment prints, 11”x 14” on acid-free paper and were produced from a digital master created by Opie. The prints are signed and numbered by the artist and each is an edition of 50. Boxed set of either print with a signed, first-edition catalogue ($600); Stand-alone print (each $500); Framed print (each $600.00).

About the ICA
An influential forum for multi-disciplinary arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art has been at the leading edge of art in Boston for 75 years. Like its iconic building on Boston's waterfront, the ICA offers new ways of engaging with the world around us. Its exhibitions and programs provide access to contemporary art, artists, and the creative process, inviting audiences of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the excitement of new art and ideas. The ICA, located at 100 Northern Avenue, is open Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 am - 5 pm; Thursday and Friday, 10 am - 9 pm; and Saturday and Sunday, 10 am - 5 pm. Admission is $15 adults, $10 seniors and students, and free for members and children 17 and under. ICA Free Admission for Youth is sponsored by State Street Foundation. Free admission on Target Free Thursday Nights, 5 - 9 pm. Free admission for families at ICA Play Dates (2 adults + children 12 and under) on the last Saturday of the month. For more information, call 617-478-3100 or visit our Web site at

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