An illustration of a wide-smiling Barry Sternlicht greeted us as we entered the Riflemaker Dairy for José-María Cano's "The Wall Street 100" collection. Mimicking newspaper cuttings from the Wall Street Journal, the exhibit's 100 large wax portraits depict people the artist deems socio-politically powerful. After Sternlicht, we caught the more stern glare of Paul Wolfowitz, and then moved on to a dopey-looking Roberto Vedovotto and a Jeffrey Rich in serious need of a new hairdresser. The first room made us want to read The Economist's entire back catalogue. Who were these bureaucratic supermen, and why had we never heard of them?
The second room, with slightly larger graphics, allowed us to appreciate the intricacy of Cano's work. What amounts to a sum of stipples successfully evokes mood, replicates the feel of a newspaper, and adds texture and dimension to each portrait. There is a vivacity to Cano's meticulous renderings, such that the coldness of the achromatic palette melts away and even Alan Greenspan can, in the words of an omitted icon, 'smile with his eyes'.
As we continued to walk the exhibit, we were confronted with the more familiar faces of Bill Gates, Bernard Madoff, and Rupert Murdoch. Still, many others we did not recognise, and a graph illustrating the 2007 financial downturn intensified our initial concern: while these people greatly shape our economic well-being, we knew almost nothing about them. Though movers and shakers they may be, we had relegated them to the margins of our consciousness.
Women are, strikingly, absent from Cano's list of powerful people. When we visited, none were present in his depictions, although the exhibit appeared to be still somewhat under construction. And though the website advertises certain female inclusions (The Queen, Kate Moss), the space is dominated by masculine icons, implying a message that mass inequality still lingers in the corporate and political worlds.
Cano's recreations are rigorous and well worth a look. Maybe you'll do better than us at 'Name that Tycoon'.
By Rob Lederer
Riflemaker Dairy is located at 7 Wakefield Street, just around the corner from Russell Square Station. The Wall Street 100 will be on display until 5 December 2009