The familiar bright eyes of Paul McCartney peer over visitors entering Gagosian’s latest photographic exhibition on Madison Avenue. A scarlet rose in his mouth and a slightly stunned expression, the iconic musician’s portrait introduces visitors to the exhibition’s intimate yet charismatic disposition.
For decades Linda McCartney (d.1998) photographed many distinguished musicians whilst documenting her home life with family members and private affectionate moments. Mary McCartney has followed suit, capturing powerful portraits of notable individuals whilst sharing her mother’s desire to gain spontaneous yet illusive snapshots of loved ones. ‘Linda McCartney and Mary McCartney: Mother Daughter’ is the first exhibition to display a juxtaposition between the two artists’ imagery, and works fiercely well in building a curatorial dialogue, upholding an intimate aesthetic and calling to question the effects of seeing the photography of two familial generations side by side.
The exhibition comes to life with curious pairings of photographs. Some groupings bear natural kinship in formal content: several kissing embraces, three masked characters. However, there are more subtle pairings too: the half hidden portraits of Kate Moss and Mick Jagger behind veiling, the clasping of hands and feet. Yet, even the accessible parallels remain interesting in content, because they reveal a shared viewpoint of familial discourse between mother and daughter.
The sentimental proposal evident in bringing the McCartney women’s photography together also conveys a humbling attitude towards the role of ‘celebrity’ in each of their lives. Certainly, we see Paul McCartney as less a representative ‘Beatle’ and more a husband-father figure. He becomes a paternal character viewed through an acutely intimate keyhole that gently exposes family tics and idiosyncrasies.
Like her acclaimed mother Linda, Mary McCartney has a clear photographer’s eye. Their curious spirits grasp delicate imagery of previously raw and rough material such as Linda’s ‘Cherries, Antigua’ (1970) and Mary’s ‘Tea and Rust’, each pleasing in composition and colour palette despite their quotidian subject matter. A particularly refined curatorial composition can be found in the imagery of three beds - iconographically a poignant, personal setting. Firstly, Mary’s image of Tracey Emin’s ‘Bed’– another celebrity tied into the familial display, secondly the intimate and domestic ‘Mum’s Side of the Bed, Sussex’ (1998) – a nostalgic imprint of a nightly routine, and thirdly Linda’s ‘James, Paul and Stella. Southern France’ (1978) which depicts the McCartney children cuddling up to their father in bed.
These photographs capture a highly intimate setting of bound trust within a domestic backdrop. This complicit trust is also evident in the McCartney’s bathing photographs, in which each subject is openly communicating with the camera, letting the voyeur in. In a world of staged photography and commercial celebrity magazines such as ‘Hello’ and ‘Grazia’, this familial candidness is really quite disarming to see. During this exhibition visitors may find themselves asking whether some of these photographs were intentionally taken as ‘art’ or simply as family documentation that has since gained cultural significance, it’s an interesting quandary and a boundary that is becoming increasingly greyed with the proliferation of photography in contemporary life.
These voyeuristic connotations establish thoughtful clusters of work that connect the McCartney family through private and public dialogues, extending over three decades. Throughout ‘Mother Daughter’ visitors will find an authentic element of personal history between the two women, exposing a timeline that jumps back and forth between childhood and family memories. Technically adept and visually intriguing, this is an exhibition that reaches beyond the initial pull of pop-culture and celebrity, and into something altogether more accessible and intimate.