In Berlin, Optical Illusion Meets the Glamorous, Gruesomely Murdered Sharon Tate

  • Image courtesy of Dittrich & Schlechtriem.

    Image courtesy of Dittrich & Schlechtriem.

In the 1960s, American actress Sharon Tate was famous. She was the wife of Roman Polanski, and she earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls. Sadly, in the public eye, it is her death, not her life, that’s often best remembered.

A pregnant Tate (1943–69), along with several of her friends, was the victim of a violent murder at the hands of the Manson Family. The killings, which occurred at Tate and Polanski’s L.A. home, shocked Hollywood, the public, even the police: The murder scene was so gruesome, they initially concealed many of the grislier details. Tate was stabbed to death with a knife, or perhaps another kind of sharp object, that was reportedly “deeper than it is wide.” That phrase was the inspiration for the third solo show of New York-based artist Robert Lazzarini at Dittrich & Schlechtriem in Berlin.

The show’s title, “Deeper than Wide,” is a reference to the fatal injuries sustained by Tate. Pictured in happier days, she is the subject in many of the featured paintings, which combine optical patterning with appropriated media images of the actress.

The effect is both visually compelling and confusing. The images aren’t static, but dynamic, almost vibrating with movement. The subject’s expression and posture seem to change slightly the longer you look. For the viewer, admiring these seemingly moving images of such a glamorous woman—knowing, as we do, her tragic fate—is a strange, sad experience. Encountering Lazzarini’s recent depictions of Tate, you can’t help but think about the limitations of perception and the fact that you can’t always trust your own eye.

  • Image courtesy of Dittrich & Schlechtriem.

    Image courtesy of Dittrich & Schlechtriem.

The same is true of the sculptural objects displayed alongside the paintings. These pieces—based on wall reliefs in the Hollywood Regency, a popular design style in midcentury Southern California when Tate lived there—also seem to change depending on proximity and perspective. Take the delicate golden bird (2016): From one angle, the bird looks as if it’s resting; walk around the sculpture, and you’ll see a different view—the bird looks dead.

There’s a clear parallel here. Like Tate, the bird is beautiful but fallen. Likewise, the gilded sculpture is reminiscent of decorative objects you might find inside the homes of old-school Hollywood elite. Lazzarini’s new show is as much a comment on the limits of perception as it is a thoughtful critique on the industry and of the monuments we build to celebrities and, indeed, our own memories.


—Bridget Gleeson


Robert Lazzarini: Deeper than Wide” is on view at Dittrich & Schlechtriem, Berlin, Dec. 17, 2016–Jan. 28, 2017.

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