By Haggerty Museum of Art
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fund FELLOWSHIPS FOR INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS 2019
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships for Individual Artists program annually awards unrestricted funds to emerging and established Milwaukee artists to support the creation of new work, or the completion of work in progress. This virtual exhibition includes new work by the 2019 Fellows. The Haggerty Museum of Art has partnered with the program since 2016.
Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships for Individual Artists Catalog Cover (2020) by Craig KroegerHaggerty Museum of Art
Now in its seventeenth cycle, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships for Individual Artists program creates—through a jurying process and culminating exhibition—an opportunity to promote local artistic production to a national audience. The 2019 Fellows were chosen from a field of 159 applicants by a panel of three jurors. The Nohl Fellowship program is administered in collaboration with the Lynden. Learn more about the program here.
Vaughan Larsen Headshot (2020) by Vaughan LarsenHaggerty Museum of Art
About the Artist
Vaughan Larsen is a Milwaukee-based artist who received their BFA with an emphasis in Photography and Imaging from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in May 2019. Later that year, they earned first place in the Creative Bursary Global LGBTQ+ Stories by Getty Images and first prize in the Unique competition of the Amsterdam Pride Photo Award. Larsen has exhibited throughout Milwaukee and in Brooklyn, New Orleans and, with The Reclaim Kollektiv, in Cologne, Germany. Larsen’s work has been written about in publications such as Urban Milwaukee, Photo Emphasis, and Humble Arts Foundation.
Dreaming of an Odalisque (2020) by Vaughan LarsenHaggerty Museum of Art
Vaughan Larsen’s Embodied Landscapes
In Vaughan Larsen’s photograph Self-Portrait as my Mother as a Cheerleader (2018) we see a lone figure in a cheerleading uniform. They are enclosed within a circle of pompoms that simultaneously suggests celebration and isolation. The main event of the photograph is the football that is hitting them in the face. There is tension between wanting perfection—to be the perfect cheerleader, to make the perfect photograph—and feeling that this “perfect” moment has been ruined by a sort of careless violence. It’s unclear how the figure feels about the football and everything it represents. The gendered symbols (literally) collide, generating questions: What is it we want? What is it we should want?
These questions run throughout Larsen’s series Rites, in which they re-imagine the family album through a queer lens. They address the exclusion of their own experience from the snapshots that typically commemorate pivotal moments (a wedding, a birth, a prom) by re-staging and re-photographing them. In doing so, Larsen points to whose experiences are remembered and whose aren’t, while also asking us to consider what has been omitted from our own family albums. By photographing a cast of changing characters, including themself, family members, and friends, they suggest a fluid definition of what a family can be.
Larsen’s new version of the album is both heavy and light: the humor and direct address of the portraits is disarming. Maybe it’s more of an investigation than a critique. Or maybe it’s about making fun of the rituals and longing for them at the same time. Ultimately, the subjective, political nature of both image and archive emerges; what we can remember and visualize shifts our understanding of the past as well as what we can envision for the future.
While these ideas are inextricably tied to photography, Larsen’s first love was theater. It’s not surprising, given the recurrent theme of bodies coming together in space, seeking mutual understanding. This attention to everyday performances is perhaps clearest in Aiden from Grindr; Illinois (2018), a portrait of a boy from the series ASL? In it, the red walls are like theater curtains, his mask is reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera, and neon lights blink in the background. A second mask on the wall hints at the desire to inhabit multiple identities. Instead of going to his physical space, Larsen photographed the screen of their video chat. Elements of classical portraiture come up against the digital texture of the screen; light and color dissolve into pixels and noise. The distance between artist and subject is visually embedded in the image, but it’s not about that. It really has to do with the ingredients of connection: looking, observing, making yourself visible to another.
These themes of visibility and vulnerability drive Larsen’s most recent work: nude self-portraits in the American landscape that invite us to consider the intersection of gender, nature, and photography. The images reference art history—Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog come to mind, and we see echoes of Edward Weston’s pictures of Charis Wilson and Ansel Adams’s views of Yosemite. The pictures also evoke Deborah Bright’s seminal essay, “Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men.” In it, she delineates the trope of the male photographer-explorer, arguing that the field of landscape photography is dominated by a straight, white, male gaze and its exclusionary agenda. Larsen engages and challenges this history by placing themself in the frame and alluding to their own gender fluidity. In this sense, the work is about the experiences and bodies that have so often been left out of the canon. By exploring their femininity and questioning the myth of nature as feminine, Larsen disrupts gender binaries that have historically been applied to both people and spaces. The images reinforce Bright’s idea that no landscape has an essential condition but is, rather, always in flux, its meanings dependent on who is looking.
Sophie Barbasch is a New York-based photographer.
Two Bosoms Meet in the Desert (2020) by Vaughan LarsenHaggerty Museum of Art
Click here to view Vaughan Larsen’s Artists Now! Guest Lecture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts.
Please note that this presentation contains nudity and sexual content. It may not be appropriate for young viewers, or for those who are not comfortable with this content.
Vaughan Larsen would like to extend special thanks to:
Michael, Sam, Katey, and Shaina.