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Published: August 5, 2010

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20100805TheInquirerMirrornp2 Art Review

Pixel Perfect American Icons at Cavalier Gallery

Reprinted from the Aug. 5, 2010 | Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror (

By Joshua B. Gray
I&M Staff Writer

Inspired by one of the oldest art forms known to man, photographer Alex Guofeng Cao has created mosaics for the modern age.

Cavalier Galleries on Main Street will open a month-long exhibition this evening showing his large-scale digital images in a show called “Icon vs. Iconic.”

Utilizing familiar images of some of the most recognizable faces of the 20th century, Cao has composed larger-than-life mosaics: giant photographs composed of other tiny images. A portrait of John F. Kennedy is made up of tens of thousands of images of his wife Jackie exposed in a manner in which the small pixels create the larger image. Joining the Kennedys in the Nantucket installation are images of Marilyn Monroe and the Mona Lisa, John Lennon and Elvis, among nearly a dozen others.

Garnering headlines across the country wherever the work has shown, Cao became the star of last year’s Art Basel in Miami, Fla. after being featured in a cover story in The Miami Herald and selling out his exhibit. Since then a slew of other mainstream publications and art journals have focused their attention on Cao, whose roots are in commercial photography and celebrity portraiture.

Born in China and educated from high school on in the United States, Cao was a fan of history first and foremost, and received inspiration for his current body of work after studying Western antiquity and ancient Eastern societies. He was also strongly influenced by the Pop Art movement in the United States that Andy Warhol is most famous for representing.

“My influences definitely include Warhol and pop art, but I think the idea is more ancient. It is less of a modern idea than people think,” Cao said.

Cavalier Galleries owner Ron Cavalier first became familiar with Cao’s work while attending Art Basel.

“This is the great art fair in this country, nothing else compares and he got the front-page at the show,” said Cavalier. “I thought this is someone I need to take a look at and there has been a flood of interest. Every major contemporary-art publication is looking at him right now. Some of the work is edgy, provocative and some with nudity, (i.e. Pamela Anderson vs. Courbet’s L’Origine du monde).”

Cao was inspired to make an original piece for the Nantucket exhibition based on an iconic reference to the island. “Captain Ahab vs. Gregory Peck” is an image of the actor in one of his most famous roles standing aboard the ill-fated whaling vessel from Melville’s “Moby-Dick.” This image is made up of millions of glamorous posed shots of the actor.

“Everyone has read ‘Moby-Dick’ in high school, but as I looked back into it I became very inspired and I also have watched the movie many times now,” he said. The very idea of icons in America is synonymous with classic films, and many of Cao’s subjects have associations with the glamour of Hollywood and politics.

“Ultimately, the goal of this series is the encoding and layering of information. As time passes, the images accumulate information in addition to the artist’s original intent. They undergo evolution and change and bear the marks of history,” reads the gallery statement on the installation.

It is a reference to seemingly-hidden marks and notations made within the mosaics. Represented by seeming abnormalities in the layout of the image, certain points add extra depth and context to the work. For instance, the towering portrait of Kennedy has points throughout that do not coincide and are seemingly out of place, but after careful inspection it is understood that these are references to tragic dates in the Kennedy family’s history: The deaths of his older brother Joseph, Robert Kennedy, and he himself.

“I think this is something folks on the island will respond to,” said Cavalier. “There are thousands of images, but there are clues and finds within the image of historic moments that these people have participated in. They are fun, incredibly creative and very unique in many ways.”

Scaled to two sizes, six by nine feet and 40 by 60 inches, 14 of Cao’s works will be presented on Nantucket. The images are being sold in a limited edition of 10-12 prints each.

“Icon vs. Iconic” will open at the Cavalier Gallery on Main Street Thursday, Aug. 5 with a reception from 6-8 p.m.