U R Not A (Star)
Performing the Portrait: The Photographs of J. Shimon & J. Lindemann
UWM Art History Gallery, Mitchell Hall, Room 154
3200 N. Downer Avenue
Now – September 24
They hail from Manitowoc, these two photographers, J.Shimon & J. Lindemann, long-linked by the cozy “&.”
We met two decades ago. They were cool then, and they’re currently cool: Julie in her 1980’s shades and Cleopatra hair; Johnie in a vintage suit and a swell pompadour rising above his tanned, noble face. I’m tempted to say they’re cool-er now that they have a Milwaukee Art Museum retrospective under their belts, but no, cool isn’t about celebrity. It’s about attitude. Are these Wisconsinites merely great pretenders, or are they genuinely cool and care about getting heavy on the philosophy. Methinks life is pretty much a pose no matter how you view it.
The image on my invitation to the opening of their exhibit (Sept. 3 – 24) is of two guys, Brett and Nigel, circa Madison 1997. The accompanying text deems the duo as “misfits searching for an unattainable coolness in a Midwestern town.” Yes, the various photographs do suggest this, but as one who grew up in a Midwestern town (population 1,000), I know that coolness was attainable, even in an Iowa berg. It resonated in my clipped-to-the-scalp Jean Seberg-style cropped hair, and the just-so 5-inch cuff on my blue jeans, copped from the cool of Brando. I had “It.”
You have to ask yourself if cool is rooted in money to blow, an agent, a celebrity contract and so forth. James Dean had the cool connections, but problem was, he died proving it while speeding along in his cool sports car. The guys I dated in the ’50s wore DA (duck’s ass) greased-back hair. Their T-shirts were tight and white like Dean’s had been. The wind whistled through our ears when we sped through the night in a cool turquoise and white Olds rag-top. We were cool. In our limited universe, we were STARS.
At the opening lecture, many of the portraits are familiar to me. The subjects haven’t aged. They’re forever frozen in 15 minutes of fame, thanks to their agents, J. Shimon & J. Lindemann. A nearby chap remarked that he thinks the Shimon & Lindemann event is far cooler than the coming of Andy W. “People will go to that one just to be seen,” he snapped. “The packed room here is mostly about folks who love great photographs.” It was indeed, a cool crowd: Deb Brehmer, Bruce Knackert, Nick Frank, LeeAnn Garrison, Leslie Vancen, Art Elkon, Reid, Jimmy Von Milwaukee (looking Amish-cool) and a host of other art stalwarts who’ve been friends of J & J for a long time. Cool too, were the many students circulating around the room and actually discussing the work. Even
83-year-old Bob Watt managed to make the scene.
On the west wall of the gallery is a 40-by-32 inch archival inkjet print … Amber & Brad in their Garden, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, 2009. It’s a beaut. The cool really kicked in when Amber and Brad themselves strolled in, having driven down from Manitowoc to see the exhibition. “My tomatoes are doing great,” said Amber as she clutched a pale pink carnation given to her by Julie Lindemann.
The thoughtful catalog was free, and quite a large slice of credit goes to Rachel Vander Weit, who pulled it all together as part of her Master’s Thesis Exhibition. The gallery is open Monday – Thursday, from 10am – 4pm. Or, be cool and visit shimonlindemann.com.