In his 1884 novel, A Rebours, Joris-Karl Huysman dedicates an entire chapter to each obsession of his decadent antihero, Des Esseintes. We are introduced, for example, to his extensive libraries, comprehensive knowledge of scents, and specific tastes in the lighting of a Moreau painting. In one chapter, Huysman guides us through Des Esseintes’ collection of flowers, some artfully crafted of waxed paper and painted silks, and others organic living specimens so grotesque they appear impossibly fake. In another chapter a tortoise is procured and its shell encrusted in lacquer and gems so that it might crawl across the Persian carpets, activating their patterns under the lamp light. In the next chapter, the tortoise dies under the weight and wounds of its decorated body. No wonder this is the book that inspired Dorian Gray.
In my work, I create a limbo of unreserved opulence and overwhelming reality where most real things are fake and all fake things are real. I invite my audience to peer into the proscenium, encounter a facsimile wonderland, and begin to wittingly play along. The colliding roles of gender, kitsch, history, and the dramatic banal, leave questions of authenticity always hanging in the balance. Using photography, installation, performance, or video, I satisfy a dire need for my own new reality.
I employ a studied aesthetic grammar which references distinct and yet jumbled moments from histories of art and visual culture. Plucking icons from this nexus of cultural and visual timelines I create a space which discuss how these symbols operate while still holding their own apparent content. I place myself in the lineage of the studiolo and the curio cabinet. I am displaying the wonders of the world as ordered by my own sensibility, as influenced greatly by my moment, as a selfish claim to my own picturesque wish for historicity. Most often my work exists as a photograph: a cool, distancing device which allows the dramatic play to appear as if through a window. When not working in photography, I turn to the form of tableaux and the vantage of the proscenium. This feeling of peering and watching invokes nostalgia, melancholy, and longing—ideal ingredients for understanding the urgency of escapism. In her autobiography Living My Life, Emma Goldman writes about her great love of fresh flower, fine wine, opera. She explains how these things are the very stuff of revolution despite her (mostly male) comrades criticisms of their bourgeois social implications. For Goldman, there was no revolution to fight if at the end of that struggle there was anything less than opera. This is the urgency of my work – the dispersal and ownership of beauty.
Somewhere between life’s latent dramas and its pervasive and bewildering exoticism, I find the chance to take some small control over my own experience of beauty. I find myself making little tributes to the likes of Mrs. Dalloway, Salome, or Medea and I think about how we (women? artists? queer people?) have constructed beauty and power out of the circumstances that life provides. In this spirit, I make work that is constructivist, that champions the sublimity of earnestness. Kitsch, in its most basic form, is earnestness. Earnestness is closely wed to sorrow and so kitsch occupies a space of rabid desire driven from desperation and heartbreak. My work images a world that might be, built out of the world that is. It is a kitsch paradise, a queer-washed history, and an attempt at hope. In each photograph, installation, or video I am asking myself and my world to be something more, I am inviting those around me to peer in and through that lens perhaps see the infinite potential to curate one’s own dramas.
MFA Columbia University, New York, New York
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture
BFA Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island
Yes, Death., Black and White Project Space, New York City
14×48 Billboard, New Perfumes, 181st St and Broadway New York City
New Perfumes, Fort Gondo, St. Louis
Rachel Stern: A Certain Age, Humble Arts Foundation for Bushwick Open Studios, NYC
Art F City Panda Calendar and Prints Pop Up, Sargent’s Daughters, New York City
Instances of Orientalism, Colo Colo Gallery, New Bedford
Lattice Work, Black and White Project Space, New York
Finished Goods, Pfizer Building, New York
Monochromatic, Asya Geisberg Gallery, New York
Public/Private/Portrait, Deli Gallery, New York
Columbia MFA Thesis Exhibition, Fischer Landau Center, New York
POLAROIDS! Nada 2016, Invisible-Exports, New York
FOMO, Black and White Gallery, New York
Gay Bar, Art F City at Satellite, Maimi
Floating Point, Judith Charles Gallery, New York
NAKED, Nave Gallery, Somerville
First Year MFA Exhibition, Wallach Gallery, New York
Miss Salon, pop up, New York
XANADU, Northern-Souther, Austin
Born Into This, leRoy Neiman Gallery, New York
Botanica, Invisible-Exports, New York
Botanica, Carroll and Sons, Boston
All The World’s A Stage, Daniel Cooney Fine Art, New York
The Mechanical Turk, Fjord at RISD, Providence
Small Works, Humble Arts Foundation at the Flash Forward Festival, Boston
31 Women in Photography, Humble Arts Foundation at Hasted Kraeutler, New York
Work About the Body, RISD Museum, Providence
America, America, RISD Museum, Providence
Lattice Work, Black and White Gallery, New York
LOVE 2016, Neiman Gallery Columbia University, New York
Colucci, Emily. “Say Yes to Death” Art F City July.
Monroe, Kelly. “The Cuter Side of Cemeteries” FOTOFOAM July.
Leifheit, Matthew. “Gorgeous, Spooky Photo of Old Cemeteries” VICE June.
Zelony-Mindell, Efrem. “Into the Cemetery!” Huffington Post June.
Kapp, Daniel. “Vantage Points: Death” Musée June.
Ryan-Wood, Riley. “Rachel Stern at Black and White Project Space” Musée June.
Cotton, Charlotte Hoogwaerts, Romke. “Public/Private/Portrait” Mossless & ICP June.
Renstrom, Elizabeth. “How Artists Interpret Love” VICE January.
Wavepool. “A New Nothing – Matthew Morrocco and Rachel Stern” Wavepool January.
McNelis, Ashley. “Portfolio by Rachel Stern” BOMB August.
Feinstein, Jon. “Rachel Stern Talks Queer Art, Men-as-Muses, and Mary Ellen Mark
(NSFW)” HAFNY Blog June.
Ola, Ari. “Sparkle and Shade at the First Drag Convention in Herstory” i-D May.
Max, Ryan. “The World’s Wilting Green Parties” Vice Magazine May.
Bruckert, Joscha. “Romka 9” Romka Magazine April.
Legault, Paul. “The Dream Approaches” Gather Journal Fall/Winter.
Ryan, Hugh. “Queen Sabrina, Flawless Mother” Vice Magazine March.
Dixon, Jonathan. “Writer Rudy Wurlitzer’s Underappreciated Masterpieces” Vice
Skowhegan. “SPACE/LAUNCH” Skowhegan Publication December.
Johnson, Paddy. “AFC 2015 Panda Calendar” December.
Morrocco, Matthew. “Issue No 3” STILL Magazine for New Writing and Photography November.
Oyler, Peter. “Rachel Stern’s Opulent Escapes” Outpost Journal Fall.
Leifheit, Matthew. “Photo Issue 2014” Vice July.
Cavanaugh, Daniel Author. “Rachel Stern’s Beauty” Peter, Tom & Dave June.
Leifheit, Matthew. “MATTE 23: Rachel Stern” MATTE Magazine May.
Thebez, Alex. “Rachel Stern: Untitled Studio Works” Lintroller May.
O’Mera, Kristi. “Introducing Rachel Stern” The Patternbase March.
Marjoram, Amy Author. “Issue 6: Life, Death # Bureaucracy” Excerpt Magazine Dec.
Kim, Aram. “Issue #29” BLINK Magazine November.
Jin, Victoria Author. “Kneon 08: The Global Issue” Kneon Magazine September.
Hamburger Eyes. “Pentaprism #1” Pentaprism September.
Hamburger Eyes. “Pentaprism #2” Pentaprism September.
Leifheit, Matthew. “New Works by Rachel Stern” CCNY Blog April.
Laroche, Winslow Author. “Still Life with Real and Fake Flowers” Je Suis Perdu April.
Camp, Jessica Dean. “Rachel Stern” DON/DEAN April.
Leifheit, Matthew. “MATTE 9: Rachel Stern” MATTE Magazine October.
A Terrible Compromise in conversation with Matthew Morrocco, CCNY, New York, NY
Lecturer, Marble Hill Camera Club, New York, NY
Visiting Artist, Rhode Island School of Design, visit in NY
Visiting Critic and Lecturer, Alfred University, Alfred, NY
Visiting Critic and Lecturer, Joan Mitchell Foundation, New York, NY
Visiting Critic and Lecturer, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY
Visiting Critic and Lecturer, Alfred University, Alfred, NY
Panelist, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
Visiting Lecturer, Boston College, Boston, MA