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Gallery Review | Fashion royalty premieres at Mario Testino’s MFA Debut

Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012

Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 01:10


Courtesy of Mario Testino/Museum of Fine Arts

Kate Moss is the most heavily featured celebrity ‘In Your Face’


In her introduction to the “Mario Testino: In Your Face” exhibition book, Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour asks, “Does anyone look more gorgeous or regal or sexy or subversive or sexy or luminous than when captured by Mario?” The answer is no.

The prolific fashion and celebrity photographer Mario Testino makes his U.S. museum debut at the Museum for Fine Arts Boston (MFA) with both finesse and style in his two exhibits, “In Your Face” and “British Royal Portraits.”

“Mario Testino: In Your Face” is a compilation of 122 images captured by the Peruvian photographer which include both editorial magazine shoots and personal snapshots taken from 1993 through 2012. The meticulously curated exhibit provides a window into the Vogue photographer’s jet-setting lifestyle.

The viewer is greeted at the gallery entrance by a 16-screen grid of video monitors flashing footage that spans press conferences, award galas and behind-the-scenes interactions and interviews with celebrity subjects.

Entering the Gund Gallery, spectators meet enormous portraits drenched in rich color. In one, a larger-than-life image of Josh Hartnett, the actor confronts the camera with bold mascara and smeared lipstick across his face.

The dichotomy and contradiction present in this image are themes that run throughout “In Your Face.” It juxtaposes iconic images from Testino’s career with his personal snapshots.

Fun is at the center of much of his work, like his shot of Gwyneth Paltrow fooling around with a skateboard in a French chateau or one of Ashton Kutcher flaunting a severed robotic hand. The silliest piece by far captures countless couples making out while one man looks awkwardly at the camera.

At the other end of the spectrum of Testino’s photography are his intimate portraits. “In Your Face” makes viewers feel almost personally acquainted with public figures like the Courtney Love, Emma Watson and Madonna.

Though this exhibit clearly caters to the fashion-minded, its variety makes it universally accessible. Testino’s work showcases everyone from rock stars to media moguls, and it embraces stark studio spaces, lush landscapes, modernist compositions and classical nudes. And at the fore, there’s sex.

“In Your Face” doesn’t withhold sexually explicit content from its viewers. Case in point: The Gucci 2003 Spring Summer campaign, in which a capital “G” is shaved into a female model’s exposed nether regions.

The sultry gazes of supermodels Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen, two of Testino’s main muses, might add the most steam to the exhibit. With eight images featured, Moss is clearly the star of the show.

Two of those images in particular, one of which features Moss in a Union Jack-adorned blazer and another that places her alongside the British guards, are emblematic of how Testino has inserted himself into British iconography. Besides working for classic English brands like Burberry, Testino has been the British royal family’s go-to photographer for over a decade. His work with them is on view at the MFA in a second, smaller exhibit, “British Royal Portraits.”

There is a sharp difference between Testino’s photographs of British royaly and the casual, intimate portraits displayed elsewhere in this gallery. Still, the Christmas card reproductions and outtakes of William and Harry laughing with their father capture personal moments in the royals’ lives.

Here, the exhibit’s central dichotomy emerges. Photographs depicting the family on public display hang next to shots that explore private moments, like a stolen hug between Kate Middleton and Prince William during their engagement shoot and a snap of Harry gleefully grinning next to his motor bike.

The Herb Ritts Gallery, where “British Royal Portraits” is on display, offers a calmer viewing experience than the “In Your Face” exhibit. The show is in a much smaller space and encourages viewers to pause between each photograph.

The comparative forcefulness of “In Your Face” is overwhelming -- the exhibit demands constant attention. Walking through the gallery, there is barely time to breathe or step back. It’s a blitz of color and light.

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