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When the artist searched the Kinsey Institute’s photography collection, he was struck by the number of masked figures, shown below in RSVP. “Initially, I thought it was fetish costuming—and it could be,” he says. ”Then I realized they may have wanted to be anonymous because they could get arrested.”
At Kinsey, Sistler narrowed down some 4,000 black-and-white photos to 180, then 29, which he digitally incorporated into 15 prints. How could he legally use the images? “It was produced as the pornography of the day,” says Catherine Johnson-Roehr, a Kinsey Institute curator. “There’s no way to trace who owns copyright because no one wanted to put a name on it. It’s a little bit of a gray area.”
Sistler worked with Anchor Graphics for a year to create the photopolymer intaglio prints, a time-intensive process that resulted in uncommonly crisp images. He hired a book conservator to create ten boxes for the complete set—now called Hotel Suite—and invested $25,000 in the project. So far, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Block Museum of Art have each purchased a boxed set, which retails for $8,000. “It’s nasty, some of it,” says Mark Pascale, the Art Institute’s curator of prints and drawings. But the museum’s board, which reviews all acquisitions, didn’t have a problem. “You look at Renaissance art, there’s just as much profanity there,” Pascale says. “Kinsey was certainly interested in the things that Caravaggio was.”
Sistler isn’t concerned about the exploitation factor. “It touches on a really dark, lonely place—an internal place,” he says. “The spaces I’m depicting are internal psychological spaces. To be brutally honest, they’re of my own interior. And they are dark and lonely.”
GO: Hotel Suite shows October 22nd through November 27th at Printworks Gallery, 311 West Superior Street, Suite 105; 312-664-9407.