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Photographer Marion Gray captures performance greats

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Marion Gray showcases the scene at the Berkeley Art Museum in the 1980 photograph “Opening of the exhibition ‘Avedon 1946-1980.’”

Unsung heroes appear in varied forms and places. They support, sustain and foster, often without entering the spotlight, and make the seemingly impossible happen. Marion Gray is such a hero.

Now on view at the Oakland Museum of California is an exhibit aptly titled “Marion Gray: Within the Light.” A San Francisco-based photographer, Gray is treasured by performers and curators for her stunning images. Her name may not be as familiar as the artists she has photographed –– Merce Cunningham, Marina Abramovic, Guillermo Gómez-Peña – but her work plays a vital role in histories of performance.

Many of the images, picturing notable Bay Area performance artists and groups including Contraband, Karen Finley and Survival Research Laboratories, never have been on display before. Gray’s work preserves and activates these events, while simultaneously bringing them to wider audiences.

On April 24, Gray and choreographer Jess Curtis, who performed with Contraband, appear in conversation in a dialogue facilitated by exhibit curator Christina Linden.

Linden says Gray’s images are distinguished by her “focus on detail and texture that convey the weight and presence of the moment captured, rather than getting the shot that presents an overview.”

Her work blurs the lines between documentation and art, and exposes shared approaches between artists working in dance, performance and visual arts. Many of her photos present moments that are, according to Linden, “nowhere to be found in published material.”

Linden worked closely with Gray and research assistant Natalie Cone for a year, planning the exhibit and selecting its 23 images. Urban Digital Color printed many of the pictures.

Linden adds that the exhibit reveals “Marion's commitment to remaining in motion between and around these events and installations.”

Her unique vantage point is evident in the photographs’ vitality.

Gray’s work is distinct not only as a record of Bay Area collaborations, exhibitions and performances but also as a study of history, politics and the arts. One example is “Opening of the exhibition ‘Avedon 1946-1980’” in which Gray captures visitors to photographer Richard Avedon’s exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum.

As people gather on the museum’s ramps, Avedon’s huge photos hover overhead. It’s a study in museum cultures, art markets, as well as a compositionally gorgeous collage.

“Within the Light” showcases both Gray's artistry and Bay Area performance, capturing these fleeting moments in a way that retains their immediacy and intimacy, while shining well-deserved light on this noteworthy artist.


Marion Gray: Within the Light

Where: Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; closes June 21

Tickets: $6 to $15, free first Sunday each month

Contact: (888)-625-6873, www.museumca.org

Note: Gray’s talk with choreographer Jess Curtis and curator Christina Linden is at 7 p.m. April 24.

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