There are few somebodies who can become anybody. John Malkovich is one of them. The actor’s 60-year-old face shape-shifts its way through art history in Sandro Miller’s Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage To Photographic Masters at Catherine Edelman Gallery (through January 31, 2015). Famed portraits by Avedon, Mapplethorpe, Penn, and Warhol, among others, are simulated by Sandro, himself a master persona-maker for more than 30 years, and Malkovich. The hilarious images smack of heartfelt collaboration.
The two artists met in Chicago while working at the Steppenwolf Theatre, Malkovich on stage and Sandro shooting playbills. Apparently the idea for the series sprang from Sandro’s gigantic library of photo books—he is self-taught—and the two men reenact some of the 20th century’s most iconic, beautiful, and strange photographic portraits. Dorothea Lange’s 1936 Migrant Mother and Diane Arbus’s 1967 twins are popular favorites. Malkovich as Christ submerged in piss shocks anew.
Ultimately, Malkovich’s face and its encyclopedia of expressions dominate each scene’s flawless mimesis. But this is John Malkovich, not some Everyman Actor. One no longer sees Malkovich the man (whoever he is) but that which Malkovich’s face has come to signify: a metaphysics of identity.
The series is not just a nightmare where everything you love has been replaced with the face of a monkey; rather, Sandro’s work with Malkovich demonstrates icon fantasy. These are the saints of art history transformed by Sandro’s—and our—obsession with masterpieces and geniuses. Even as millions of personal images circulate the globe daily, it is likely that only a few will define you. Such is the paradox and power of images in the celebrity age.
The reenactments hit a high note of performance energy. Malkovich soars. The sets and costuming are impeccable. Perhaps the series will not be as eternal as their sources, but they remain a curious delicacy in the oeuvres of Sandro and Malkovich.