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Exhibition | Matthew Rolston | Talking Heads: The Vent Haven Portraits

Jul 18, 2018 — Sep 16, 2018

The exhibition Matthew Rolston: Talking Heads is comprised of monumental color portraits of dummies chosen from a collection of nearly seven hundred ventriloquist dolls (dating from 1820 to1980) housed at the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. In 2010, photographer Matthew Rolston set up a portrait studio at the museum and photographed each of his subjects in an identical manner: square format, low angle, monochromatic backdrop, and a single light source. The resulting photographs are grounded in a visual vocabulary articulated by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and Andy Warhol; they also invoke the classic tropes of Pygmalian: energize the inanimate, and in so doing, infuse them with an idiosyncratic and expressive humanity. The photographer argues on behalf of our collective humanity, and he offers the gaze of these portraits as an avenue of connection.

In the late 1970s, while still at student in photography at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, Rolston was hired by Andy Warhol to make portraits for Interview magazine. At the time, Warhol was painting a series of square portraits of celebrities and members of the social elite. Upon reflection, Rolston agrees that his Talking Heads are a tribute to his mentor: they pay homage to Warhol’s composition and vivid coloration; to his unconventional “Superstars”; and especially, to his affection for American craft and folk art.