[ visual art ]
Artistic inspiration can come from the darndest places. Take Butch Cordora: One afternoon, the former local public-broadcast TV star was channel-surfing and came across the tail end of Titanic. You know the scene: The craggy-faced old lady is out to sea, reminiscing about her necklace, when she zaps into a fit of reflection about the moment the famous passenger liner gurgled below the waves. "The 700 people in the boats had nothing to do but wait," she sobbed. "Wait to die, wait to live, wait for an absolution that would never come." That's the phrase that propelled Cordora back to the studio to create something that represents our need to be rescued or redeemed. According to the artist, "The only person who can absolve you is yourself."
The resulting project, "Absolution Lab," is the second exhibition for the 51-year-old Philly conceptual artist. Last summer he flashed onto the scene with the much-hyped "Straight and Butch" collection — a series of black-and-white nude photographs of him and a gaggle of straight men doing things like tattooing each other, sharing a shave and crossing a street Abbey Road -style. The show and related calendar did extremely well for a first-timer: He garnered a ton of press and a hefty profit, selling four pieces to legit area art collectors; the series even spawned a supplemental documentary that was shown to sold-out crowds at last year's QFest, earning him a lucrative distribution deal.
But that project's success became a double-edged, pigeonholing saber. For "The Absolution Lab," Cordora sought a total departure from his previous work. "I think this show is going to be more important than the first," he says. "It shows that I have more ideas than shooting my naked ass with straight guys."
Cordora chose as his subjects those who are always in the spotlight: celebrities. "I started thinking about who Warhol would adore," he says of his first two muses, Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy Jr. For Bad, Bad Behavior (pictured) and Piper Down, the artist used digital images of their respective wreckages that he ripped from the Internet, using Photoshop to re-color them in the same vein as Andy Warhol's haunting image of the electric chair.
In fact, most of the works in "Absolution Lab" are obvious nods to the most recognizable Pop artist of the 20th century — which, along with the heavy lineup of (mostly in-the-buff) celebs, tends to overshadow the show's intended self-appreciation-boosting theme. Triple Wrangler is a nude image of hunky gay 1970s porn star Jack Wrangler, a la Triple Elvis. Headshot is a Marilyn Diptych -ish interpretation of one of Cordora's own headshots from the '90s. "I needed myself there to show that it wasn't a show about celebrities," he says. "It's about every person in the world — famous and infamous."
The only pieces that veer away from the Warhol aesthetic are a 6-by-8-foot installation composed of the 20 Africa covers Annie Leibovitz shot for Vanity Fair in 2007, and Building the Perfect Man, a photograph of David Beckham's head transposed onto the body of a naked model striking an erotic crucifixion pose.
With all this manipulation of other people's work and likenesses, isn't Cordora worried that someone might get pissed? "If I ever have to worry about that, it means I'm making money, and at that point I welcome it," he laughs. "Honey, I would love to be in court with Posh Spice like nobody's business. I dream for the day."
Opening reception Fri., Sept. 2, 6-9 p.m., free, through Oct. 2, Ven and Vaida, 18 S. Third St., 215-592-4099, venandvaida.com.