The celebrity cemetery on Broome Street has no headstones, graves or flowers. Through Sunday, the Whitebox Art Center will display 51 portraits from British painter Robert Priseman’s “FAME” series, depicting stars who “died prematurely from suicide or as a result of a self-destructive lifestyle.”
To toy with the idea that our culture tends to deify famous people, Priseman painted each portrait on a wooden religious icon he found on eBay. It’s a bleak concept, but the artworks are far less creepy than anything you’ll find at Madame Tussauds.
An eclectic group has been assembled here on the Lower East Side. You’ve got your doomed child stars (Judy Garland, Dana Plato, Jonathan Brandis), artists (Mark Rothko, Frida Kahlo, Diane Arbus, Jean-Michel Basquiat), poets (Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Kostas Karyotakis) and pin-ups (Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith, who once claimed to be Monroe’s daughter — Monroe died in 1962 and Smith was born in 1967).
Representing the ultra-exclusive “27 Club” of musicians that died at that age are portraits of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain. Amy Winehouse, who also died at age 27, was among the 100 paintings shown in Essex last year, but isn’t among the half that traveled to the LES. No word on whether David Foster Wallace was in the first exhibit, but he isn’t here (although writers Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway are. Hemingway’s granddaughter, Margaux, is on the other side of the gallery).
Of the 51 individuals, Sid Vicious was the youngest when he died, 21. Socialite-turned Broadway actress Clara Bloodgood has been dead for 106 years, longer than anyone else. Whitney Houston’s death on February 11, 2012 was the most recent.
Check out paintings from the series, which continues to expand, below.
“FAME” at Whitebox Art Center, 329 Broome St., nr. Chrystie St.; 212-714-2347