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Chrysler Museum debuts rock musician portrait exhibit this weekend

Andrea Castillo
Contact Reporteracastillo@dailypress.com

Madonna, Cher, David Bowie and Prince are coming to the Chrysler Museum of Art this weekend.

Portraits of them and dozens of other iconic musicians will be on display in the Norfolk art museum's newest exhibit, "Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits," which opens Friday and will stick around through Sept. 18.

The exhibit, originally displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, includes more than 100 photos, with multiple portraits of celebrities including Madonna, Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson, said Seth Feman, Chrysler's curator of exhibitions and acting curator of photography. Other items on display will include contact sheets, giving visitors a glimpse into Ritts' creative process.

Many of the photos in the exhibit were taken in the 1980s and 1990s.

A number of Ritts' photographs graced the covers of magazines like Rolling Stone, and during his career, he also worked on music videos including Madonna's "Cherish" and Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game."

"Ritts developed these relationships with different sitters, so you get to see them grow and change as he worked with them," Feman said.

Ritts' career took off in the late 1970s, and he continued to take photographs up until his death in 2002 from pneumonia as a complication of AIDS. He had been HIV-positive since the late 1980s, said Mark McKenna, executive director of the Herb Ritts Foundation, who also worked with Ritts on photography, commercial and music video projects. Today the Herb Ritts Foundation aims to advance the art of photography and support HIV/AIDS-related causes.

Ritts, who grew up in southern California around celebrities, had a way with connecting with them in a way that made them feel comfortable in front of the camera and built relationships with some of them through the years, McKenna said.

"Because he was comfortable around these people that most people were in awe of — he certainly respected them — but he was also comfortable with what he was doing," McKenna said. "It gave him the ability to relate to all kinds of people."

The recent deaths of David Bowie and Prince have added a poignancy to their portraits, Feman said.

A series of images of Prince are among those that stand out to the curator.

"He's a really interesting figure. Many of the sitters give away a lot to the camera," Feman said. "There's a reserved quality that he's masking from the camera. It makes those images stick out."

One of Prince standing on his Paisley Park estate in Minnesota next to a tree with yellow leaves also stands out to McKenna, who was present at the photo shoot about 25 years ago.

"It's striking," McKenna said. "You just have this wonderful fall day and a boy from Minnesota outside his studio."

While Feman has been working closely with the images, they remain dynamic for him. Just recently, he noticed an out-of-place eyelash in a portrait of Courtney Love.

"Every time I walk through the show, I catch something new," he said.

Castillo can be reached by phone at 757-247-4635.

Want to go?

What: Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits.

When: Exhibit opens Friday and will be on display through Sept. 18. At 2 p.m. Saturday, Laurie Kratochvil, former Rolling Stone director of photography, and Mark McKenna, executive director of the Herb Ritts Foundation, will discuss Ritts' career. Space is limited for the Kaufman Theater event and attendees are asked to RSVP at chrysler.org.

Where: Chrysler Museum of Art, 1 Memorial Place, Norfolk.

Truth Booth

On Friday and Saturday, the Chrysler will host a special project called "In Search of the Truth," more commonly referred to as "The Truth Booth." The project, on a 50-state tour, debuted in Ireland and since has been in Afghanistan, South Africa and across the U.S. since 2011. Participants have two minutes inside an inflatable booth to respond to the prompt, "the truth is …" The booth is open from 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, followed by an after party at Work | Release at 759 Granby St. at 9 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit chrysler.org.

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