1987: The Starn Twins

The photo collages made jointly by identical twins Doug and Mike Starn (American b. 1961) created a sensation at the 1987 Whitney Biennial, which led to show an equally well-received show at Leo Castelli in 1988.

The Starns had been assembling altering, adapting, and appropriating photographs, many vintage, together since the age of 13. They refused to discuss their work in terms of individual contributions, thus creating an attribution issue that reinforced the sense of age and loss. To underscore their corporate identity, they made numerous self-portraits, in which it is impossible to differentiate between the two.

Creased, worn, faded, and held together with Scotch tape the Starns’ fictive keepsakes and artifacts are someone else’s memories created with archaic media. The inward-turning melancholy and fragility are utterly unlike the self-aggrandizing and florid Neo Expressionism or the impersonal, hard abstraction that preceded them.

They were also of their times. The shared the decade’s taste for outsized scale. Along Daguerre Julia Margaret Cameron and Edward Muybridge, the photography of Joel Peter Witkin, the animated films of the Brothers Quay and David Lynch’s Eraserhead were also influences. The inclusion of Twins in their official moniker, as well as the gauzy layering and romanticism of the Cocteau Twins comes to mind as well (the cover photo of Treasure, released in1984, shares many characteristics with the Starns’ work). The 1980s was also the decade of chemically-induced or “distressed” faux-vintage fabrics and materials, meaning the retrospection and nostalgia of the Starn Twins is in some way the most contemporary aspect of their art.


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