News / Blog



MAKING WAVES: Pride Month and Catherine Opie

June 26, 2020 | Allyson Hitte | Press Room/Blog

June is Pride month.  It is a time to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities and to reflect on the rich contributions made by queer people to art and culture. This week on MAKING WAVES, we are taking a closer look at artist Catherine Opie, who’s 2016 photograph Untitled #13 (Yosemite) was acquired by MMA in 2019 and featured in our summer exhibition “Yosemite Views: From Adams to Opie”.

In 2019, MMA was fortunate to acquire Catherine Opie’s Untitled #13 in celebration of the Museum’s 60th anniversary and in conjunction with MMA’s summer exhibition David Hockney’s Yosemite.  The photograph depicts an iconic view of Yosemite falls, but is blurred and out of focus.  This questions our familiarity with the place, we all know it is Yosemite, but we can’t quite focus on why. A 2017 article in the New Yorker aptly stated, “It is as if Opie were able to photograph aspects of people and mini-malls and Yosemite Falls that are invisible to the rest of the world. Her pictures ask how sure we are about what we know to be true.”

Catherine Opie (born 1961), Untitled #13, 2016, archival pigment print, ed. 5/5, 77 x 51.25 inches. Museum Purchase by Exchange; gift of Albert Denney, Nancy Stillwell Easterbrook, Margaret Wentworth Owings, Naedra B. Robinson, and Elizabeth Tompkins, 2019.003. (c) Catherine Opie.


Those familiar with Opie’s work only from MMA would be surprised to learn that her photographs of natural parks are only a small piece of her larger practice.  Although some of her landscape photographs of Lake Michigan hung in the Obama White House, Opie is also known for her work on issues surrounding the LBGTQ+ community.

After growing up in Ohio and Southern California, Opie moved to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Art Institute and was immediately plunged into the colorful world of feminism, homosexuality, and sexual subcultures.  Her photographs, and her self-portraits in particular, explore issues of identity, gender, and normalism. She seeks balance between radical homosexual sexuality (the Leather and S/M communities being an important part of her identity as a person and an artist) and suburban traditionalism inspired by her upbringing. She wants to know if you can be a lesbian sexual radical, and a married woman with children living a quiet suburban life.

Fortunately for Opie, she has proved that you can do both. She is known as a “pillar of the Los Angeles leather dyke community” and lives in a suburb of LA with her wife and son (she even raises chickens in the backyard). Her experience and her art force us to reflect on what is “normal” and what is “truthful”.  Her art teaches us to look beyond what we initially think of when we see a photograph of a tattooed lesbian, or a high school football player, or even something as seemingly straightforward as a landscape.  Everything is not what is seems and we must learn to put aside our stereotypes and look closer.


Learn more about Catherine Opie: