Melissa Anderson Scott

Review: The dinner party – diary of a social life

Repetition is the sine qua non of postmodernism. The privileging of process over content is commonplace in the ‘90s. If given only a passing glance, Melissa Anderson Scott’s The Dinner Party Series: Diary of a Social Life at Oedipus Rex, seems to be no exception. Over a year she photographed everyone she had to dinner. She then ignored Paul Delaroche’s 1840s dictum (‘From today painting is dead’) to produce these 88 portraits.

Anderson Scott’s palette is primarily monochrome, although an occasional flash of red ruptures the regularity of some surfaces. The tension stems from her framing, and despite being a photographic term, there is no other word. She crops faces, foreshortens perspectives and extends our understanding of portrait composition as she shifts the discourse from reverence to repetition. Her empathy for her subjects and her understanding of the medium are tellingly illustrated in the multiple images. Guests appear frequently. And instead of falling back on the parodies that might stem from the notion that familiarity breeds contempt, Anderson Scott searches for moments that capture changing emotions.

Photography provides endless visual opportunities, and Anderson Scott could well have been a documentarian. Instead, she compels her copies of copies to show how relevant and insightful contemporary painting can be when it is stripped of its dystopian history. Her title, finally, echoes Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, but in representing men, women and children Anderson Scott’s practice embodies the concerns of the ‘90s, the age of inclusion.

Brett Levine
Art NZ No. 84, Spring 97: Review of “The Dinner Party – Diary of a Social Life”
Scan of original review: The Dinner Party Series (168kb)