Hammer to Survey the "Cindy Sherman of Egypt"

Van Leo, No Escape from Death, 1945. American University in Cairo

The Hammer Museum's superpower is not having to give a fuck about the art market. The latest case in point is its upcoming survey of the Armenian-Egyptian photographer Van Leo (born Levon Alexander Boyadjian, 1921–2002). In 1940s Cairo Van Leo set himself up as a glamour photographer, basing his practice on a collection of postcards of Hollywood stars. Think a mix of George Hurrell, William Mortenson, and Claude Cahun—for Van Leo created about 400 self-portraits, presenting himself as male, female, a cowboy, a sheik, a corpse, Zorro, Sam Spade, the Wolfman, Jesus. He's been called the Cindy Sherman of Egypt and and an Oriental Orientalist.

In 1998, Van Leo donated his archive (13,000 prints and 16,000 negatives) to the American University in Cairo. With little material on the open market, galleries and museums have heretofore shown little interest in Van Leo. The Hammer exhibition promises to reveal a "complicated, compelling, transnational, intersectional figure…whose work belies facile definitions of East and West and pushes the boundaries between art and craft."

"Becoming Van Leo" runs July 15–Nov. 5, 2023.


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