Suzanne Bocanegra’s immersive video installation Valley (2018) presents eight women artists reenacting Judy Garland’s wardrobe test for the 1967 cult film Valley of the Dolls. Garland’s casting as a lead in the story of three women undone by drugs and show business was brief; suffering from addiction herself and reputedly unpredictable, Garland was fired just days into filming. She took the costumes with her and wore them in concerts until her death from a barbiturate overdose in 1969. The wardrobe test is the only footage of Garland from the film that survives. In it, she seems fragile as she poses awkwardly in a series of outfits. Despite having grown up a star, she appears self-conscious and unsure of herself in front of the camera.
Bocanegra worked with the studio staff of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia to painstakingly reproduce Garland’s Valley of the Dolls costumes for the eight performers in Valley. Bocanegra cast in the role of Garland eight strong women whose own work involves different aspects of performance: poet Anne Carson, choreographer and dancer Deborah Hay, artist Joan Jonas, singer and actor Alicia Hall Moran, actor and activist Tanya Selvaratnam, actor Kate Valk, artist Carrie Mae Weems, and ballerina Wendy Whelan. In this mesmerizing installation, eight large-scale, synchronized projections show the costumed performers precisely recreating Garland’s gestures and expressions from her wardrobe test. By turns humorous and poignant, Valley strikes a redemptive—if uncanny—note, revealing both the vulnerability and power of performance.
Organized by Claire Howard, Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, Blanton Museum of Art
Suzanne Bocanegra (Houston, Texas, 1957 – New York City, present) earned her BFA from The University of Texas at Austin and her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, California. A recipient of a 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship, the Robert Rauschenberg Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Art, and the Rome Prize, she has received grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Tiffany Foundation, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her recent work involves large-scale performance and installation, frequently translating two-dimensional information, images, and ideas from the past into three-dimensional staging, movement, and music.
Suzanne Bocanegra: Valley is organized by the Blanton Museum of Art.
Major funding for this exhibition is provided by Suzanne Deal Booth.
Suzanne Bocanegra, Valley (stills), 2018 (detail). Eight-channel HD video (color, sound). 4:44 minutes. In collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Photo: Carlos Avendaño, courtesy of the artist.