Art Preview: The Absolution Lab

Butch Cordora puts celebrities in the spotlight in his new First Friday show

Amy Winehouse (courtesy of Butch Cordora)

A naked David Beckham. Princess Diana’s car crash. Paris Hilton being arrested for her alleged cocaine possession in Vegas. Amy Winehouse. And porn star Jack Wrangler – times three. Things are not always what they seem as Butch Cordora puts the culture of celebrity in focus – and in a sometimes uncomfortable position – in a new exhibition: “The Absolution Lab” at Ven and Vaida (opening Sept. 2).

Cordora’s homage to Andy Warhol is obvious with two-color and multi-hued interpretations of photographs (all doctored) of people on his cultural radar. And like Warhol, there’s even a car crash image modeled after his own “Death and Disaster” series from the early 1960s. Also included: a portrait of one of Warhol’s own superstars – Joe Dallesandro – that the former In Bed with Butch TV host included within a pantheon of other sometimes tragic figures in modern history – pulled right from the AP headlines (literally).

For dedicated followers of the Pop Art King, a show like this could be controversial. That’s why we talked to Cordora at the Old City gallery to find out what inspired this, his second solo show, and what he really thinks of fame.

What’s the inspiration for this exhibit?

The inspiration was celebrities and how they take advantage of their wealth and power and relevance and their fame, and just how so many celebrities nowadays – in this crazy, pop culture-driven society – throw it all away, whether they’re dead, living or in jail.

So you spend a lot of time following celebrity culture?

They make for such good fodder. I’m wired like that and fascinated with the audacity of fame, the absurdity of fame, what it all means and what it all doesn’t mean.

Where does the title come from?

I was going to call it “Pop Machine,” but I started thinking a lot about it this year. I try to take my cues from movies, magazines and TV shows and books. I try to get inspiration from all pop culture avenues. It came to me when I was surfing TV, watching Titanic. I just stopped on it at the end of the movie where the old lady is giving that speech about, “1,500 people died the night Titanic sank, there were 20 boats in the area and only one came back and I was one of the six people saved.” She goes onto say that for the next six hours “all we did was wait, we waited to die, we waited for an absolution that may never come.” I know it may sound cheesy, but that’s such a beautiful way to put it. I wrote down the word “absolution.”

What kind of statement are you making about celebrities?

They’re no different from me and you. And the common thread is that we look to be forgiven; we want redemption and to be absolved. And we look for absolution in different ways, but only you can absolve yourself. I also like absolution because of it’s religious imagery, even though I know it’ll probably upset some people.

How did you choose which celebrities would be featured?

To be honest, I sat very quietly and said to myself, “If Andy Warhol was a alive today, who would he love to death, love to hate and hate to love?” Paris Hilton, for sure. He’d have drinks with her. I know he loved Princess Diana when she was alive. But I started thinking, if Andy Warhol was alive in 2011, he would also probably love JFK, Jr., Amy Winehouse, Sharon Tate and, of course, Joe Dallesandro was his boy.

After what happened to Shepard Fairey and his Obama Hope poster, do you have any concerns that your work – which is based on images from other artists – could be subject to copyright issues?

I’m mildly concerned. I’m concerned in an excited way. I’m kinda hoping I get a letter in the mail. But I honestly feel that no one is going to even know about this because it’s just so localized in Philly and I don’t know if I’ll even get any press outside of Philly. It’s not going to be David Beckham who gets mad, it’s the guy who took the photo who might be upset.

“The Absolution Lab,” Sept. 2 (open reception 6 -9 p.m.), Ven and Vaida, 18 S. Third St., 215-592-4099.