Walk into Samuel Bayer’s solo exhibition at Beverly Hills’ ACE Gallery and you’ll find yourself surrounded. Sixteen women, each 12 feet tall and entirely confident despite their stark nudity, stare quietly from the four walls of the gallery’s main room. The initial effect is overwhelming, and as Bayer admits, “almost a little bit spooky.”
Yet this is his intention, “to strip the girls of any artifice,” providing an alternative view of womanhood. In Hollywood, where Bayer recognizes that women are constantly “dissected and scrutinized” based on superficial qualifications, the showing makes a bold statement. But after more than two decades of working in the industry, he’s hardly a stranger to making statements.
Bayer attended New York City’s School of Visual Arts, starting his career as a painter over 20 years ago before pursuing music video production. “Nobody wanted to buy my paintings,” he laughs, when asked about the sudden career change.
Soon after the transition, he found himself directing iconic music videos for the likes of Nirvana (“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” 1991) and Blind Melon (“No Rain,” 1992). In later years, Bayer collaborated with Hole, the Smashing Pumpkins, and the Strokes, among others; his most recent music video production was Green Day’s “Kill the DJ” in 2012.
He progressed into the commercial video arena in 1996, creating award-winning advertisements for major brands including Nike, Mountain Dew and Chrysler.
The feature film A Nightmare on Elm Street, a retelling of Wes Craven’s 1984 horror classic of the same name starring Rooney Mara in her first major role, followed in 2010, though Bayer is reluctant to associate with the project, which he was reportedly coaxed into directing by the film’s producer, Michael Bay. “I don’t see the movie that I made as necessarily mine, even though it has my name on it,” Bayer explains, confiding that he “found making a movie a very difficult experience.”
By comparison, developing the exhibition has been a relatively seamless operation. Inspired by a conversation with his late father during which he expressed his intense desire to display his work, Bayer began preparing the showing five years ago.
Meanwhile, he presented his first solo exhibition, "Transitions," at Siren Studios in Hollywood in 2011. The installation included stills and video footage of butterflies in various stages of growth.
He treated "Diptychs & Triptychs" as a film project more than anything else, holding open castings for hundreds of models before eventually narrowing the pool down to 16 finalists. The girls, now ordained as members of “a sort of tribe,” often held poses against a simple white backdrop for up to two hours during marathon shoots. Bayer then transformed their black-and-white images, shot with a 4" x 5" camera, into a series of 6-foot-tall diptychs and 12-foot-tall triptychs in what was a deeply personal process, one that afforded him the benefit of complete creative control.
Inspired by his two favorite photographers, Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton, Bayer now is experimenting with fashion photography, and recently completed a run of editorial shoots with Treats! Magazine. Avedon’s 1985 release In the American West, a collection of black-and-white portraits of rural subjects, particularly influences his photographic work.
Still, Bayer’s foray into fine art may not suggest a permanent departure from video. He remains undoubtedly passionate about filmmaking, and would love to direct another feature film, though this time under different conditions than his last. He has a project in development, tentatively titled Amongst Mortals and in partnership with production company Anonymous Content (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), which he describes as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in an old folks’ home.”
For now, the exhibition remains Bayer’s chief priority, “the most important thing” in his life. When asked to elaborate, Bayer pauses. “A lot of times my music videos and commercials don’t really last,” he says. “Maybe the photos will last.”
"Diptychs & Triptychs" will be on on view through April 27 at ACE Gallery, 9430 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310.858.9090, www.acegallery.net.