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Richard Flood discusses Larry Johnson's Untitled (Movie Stars on Clouds) (1983)


Richard Flood


September 1999

Institution Walker Art Center
The Larry Johnson is a piece called Stills and it's six photographs of clouds and the clouds really look like the opening credits for a movie. In a seraph face of each of the clouds is the name of a different movie star; so, it's Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Natalie Wood, James Dean, Sal Mineo. I like it because more than any other piece that I can think about . . . It's not too different from the Kawara. It's the whole notion of fame is fleeting and the illusions of the gods and goddesses of popular cultural fantasies are these incredibly vulnerable people and you'd better watch what you heroicize because it's going to let you down -- or that may be my take on it. I think it's an adolescent . . . I was very interested in star culture. I would go to movies then because a certain performer was in it. I remember one of the triads in that grouping of six -- Monroe, Gable, Clift -- when they were shooting the film that they all shared together. It was The Misfits, which was written for Monroe by Henry Miller who was trying to hold their marriage, which was falling apart at the time, together. It was Kazan, I think, who shot it. It was very interesting that here's this icon in American theater married to the archetypal movie star with the king of another moment in American movie history, Clark Gable, and the perpetual wounded second male lead, Montgomery Clift, all in this disaster of a film -- which I liked very much. It came out and probably two months later, she's dead. Gable's dead. Montgomery Clift will live to make one more movie and die prematurely of a very bizarre heart condition. Then, you have the youth cast on the other end of it: Natalie Wood, who dies by drowning; James Dean goes out in a flaming car; Sal Mineo is stabbed to death in his garage. They've all got this kind of poetic resonance within popular culture. But, I think they're also signifiers for a flaw in our utilization of popular culture, that we tend to personalize that which we truly know nothing about. I think there's a lot of poetic resonance in that piece, but I also think it's smart. Actually, I do remember when I heard Marilyn Monroe had died. I was learning to drive a stick shift in the park. It came on the radio.
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Type: Commentary, curatorial commentary
Source: Richard Flood, Chief Curator, Walker Art Center, commenting on Larry Johnson's Untitled (Movie Stars on Clouds) (1983), during the exhibition Art in Our Time: 1950 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, September 1999.
Rights: Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center
Added to Site: March 1, 2009