John O'Reilly: Studio Visitations

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The intricate Polaroid montages of John O’Reilly (1930-2021) are both deeply personal self-portraits and meditations on sexuality, history, and aesthetic pleasure. His process was painstaking: after rephotographing historical works of art, magazines spreads, and pornography, he combined these images with pictures of his home and studio, as well as photographs of his own body. Within these scenes, O’Reilly plays the role of art historical time traveler. He visits the workshops of famous artists like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Rembrandt, and mingles with figures from well-known works of art.

The encounters O’Reilly stages are often playfully homoerotic. Yet, rather than imagining an alternative, queer history for Western art, his small montages ask us to consider a simpler, but more radical, proposition: that Western art history has always been queer. As he explained, "[my] self-portraits try to establish both a self-identity and a social identity. I attempt to counter the sense of imprisonment, the feelings of marginalization, by insisting that my private world exists as an integral part of the larger social context.”


John O'Reilly, Studio Shelf, 1984. Paper and Polaroid montage, 5 1/4 x 2 7/8 in. (13.3 x 7.3 cm), Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, Gift of the artist

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