The Power Plant

Entertainment: Selections from Midcentury Studio

Stan Douglas

Past Exhibition

Dec 10 2011 – Mar 04 2012

Stan Douglas, Dancer II, 1950, 2010. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.


Entertainment: Selections from Midcentury Studio is an exhibition of new photographic work by Vancouver artist Stan Douglas. The work in the exhibition continues the artist’s practice of reexamining historical, site-specific layers, particularly the imaging of postwar North American diversions from cabaret to sports. The body of work is largely a meticulous studio project in which Douglas assumes the lens of a photographer who takes on various jobs from Weegee-esque photojournalism to advertising. A social system — and an economic system — of entertainment is revealed here in the artist’s inhabitation of a historical fiction. Achieving verisimilitude, Douglas reconstructed a studio using authentic equipment as well as hired actors to produce staged photographs that emulate the period’s obsession with noir-ish drama, magic, dance, sporting events, curious artifacts, fashion, “caught-in-the-moment” scenes, gambling, and, of course, shifting technologies.

The exhibition includes the Malabar People, a series of sixteen black-and-white portraits of the patrons and staff of a fictional 1950s nightclub. The patrons range from single women to loggers, and the staff encompass bartenders, waitresses and entertainers (a dancer, a female impersonator, a musician). Accompanying them are additional photographs from Midcentury Studio that provide a further context for period entertainment including a multiple exposure image of a dancer, photographs of stage magic tricks or sleight of hand, and large-scale images of hockey and cricket events. Together, the works reveal a highly mixed demographic. The works were shot in Vancouver, and although the locations are not always revealed, the city not only plays itself but stands in for a midcentury every city. The notion of entertainment is entwined with a postwar optimism, while at the same time inflected with darker ramifications of looking back.

Like Douglas’s films, which defy straightforward narrative expectations, the artist’s photographs typically complicate linear — and in this case, chronological — reading. Examining the links between subjective impressions of a place or event and their official representations, Douglas rethinks aesthetic structures while grounding his works in the specific. The photographs in Entertainment collectively speak to notions of history and reproduction, and offer a partial portrait of a specific place and time.

Stan Douglas (born in Vancouver, 1960) has had numerous solo and group exhibitions at prominent institutions worldwide. Recent solo exhibitions have taken place at kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2004), Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2005), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2007), and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart (2007). He has been included in recent group exhibitions at such venues as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (2008), International Center of Photography, New York (2008 and 2009), ZKM/Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe (2010), and Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010). His work is represented by David Zwirner, New York.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication that includes new texts by Louis Kaplan and Maria Muhle, a curatorial introduction by Melanie O’Brian and reproductions of works in the exhibition. Professor of History and Theory of Photography and New Media at the University of Toronto, Louis Kaplan is currently working on a book on photography and humour. A Berlin-based art historian whose research focuses on contemporary political and aesthetic theory, Maria Muhle is the co-founder of August Verlag Berlin, a publishing house for theory at the crossroads of philosophy, politics and arts.

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Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Digital silver print mounted on Dibond aluminum, 119 x 150 cm. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Digital silver print mounted on Dibond aluminum, 249 x 152 cm. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.

About the Artist

Stan Douglas