Art History’s Best Mustaches: Catherine Opie’s Fantastic “Being and Having” Series


Today’s selection will be the final installment in our month-long series highlighting the best mustaches from art history — in observance of the male cancer awareness campaign Movember — and it happens to be a series in its own right: Catherine Opie‘s breakout “Being and Having” photo portraits from 1991. The works marked Opie’s solo gallery debut when they were shown at 494 Gallery in New York that year. The 13-image series riffs on classical portraiture, with each subject donning a fake facial hairstyle — from a classic imperial mustache to an extreme goatee — and staring directly into the camera while posing against a bright yellow backdrop.


The series was presented with each image in a black frame onto which the sitter’s nickname had been etched in cursive type — that’s Bo above and Jake below, while other subjects in the series go by monikers including Chicken, Papa Bear, and Ingin. When the work was featured in Opie’s 2009 solo show at the Guggenheim, she discussed her choice of a relatively formal and conventional portrait format — which she has revisited repeatedly since — for this very unconventional series.

“If I had taken portraits of my friends in the streets or at the clubs where they go-go dance with mustaches and jockstraps on, then [the work] would focus on the notion of peer performance,” Opie said. “When you isolate the face and put a nametag on the frame, you emphasize the question of identity.”

With this unique deployment of the aesthetics of traditional photo portraiture — and mustaches — she achieved her goal for the series, which she said was that of “expanding lesbian identity and showing how lesbian sexuality is heterogeneous and complex.”


— Benjamin Sutton (@bhsutton)

(Top Image: Catherine Opie, “Being and having,” 1991. Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles. Second image: Catherine Opie, “Being and having: Bo,” 1991. Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles. Third image: Catherine Opie, “Being and having: Jake,” 1991. Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles)