‘An Undeniable American Icon’: Photos bring Selena to life at Crystal Bridges

‘An Undeniable American Icon’: Photos bring Selena to life at Crystal Bridges
LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

“Selena Forever/Siempre Selena,” a new exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, aims to give Northwest Arkansans a closer look at the big personality — and even bigger talent — of musician Selena Quintanilla-Perez, through the photography of John Dyer. Rising to fame in the 1980s, Selena was already a huge figure in the Tejano music world when her 1992 album “Entre a Mi Mundo” found huge commercial success and crossed over to the pop market. Her 1994 album “Amor Prohibido” is one of the bestselling Latin albums in the United States. Tragically, she was murdered by a former friend and employee a month before her 24th birthday.

“One of the things that I’ve come to so appreciate about Selena — at least my impression of her — is that she’s one of those rare people who brings people together,” says Kate Carey of Selena’s enduring appeal, decades after her death. Carey is the curator and head of education at The McNay, a modern art museum in San Antonio where the exhibit originated. “I think about the experience of growing up bi-cultural, having a Texan identity, an American identity and a Mexican identity — and I also think about the fact that she was such a symbol for so many people of so many different generations. So many of the visitors [to the exhibit] were much too young to have even been alive when she was making a name for herself, so their relationship to her was through her image and her music.

“I really relished the opportunity to showcase these photographs at The McNay because it gave people an opportunity to reconnect with an image that has become so beloved and also be reminded of her music and how powerful and unifying it is.”

The Crystal Bridges exhibit includes nine photographs taken by Dyer in two separate photo sessions — the first in 1992, the second in 1994.

“Selena is an undeniable American icon,” says Alejo Benedetti, an associate curator at Crystal Bridges. “She was sometimes referred to as the ‘Queen of Tejano Music.’ She was incredibly influential on a whole generation of musicians and artists working now. But I also think that when we look at these photographs, it’s a testament to John Dyer’s skill as a photographer — yes, you get the star Selena, you get the big stage presence, you get all of that sort of confidence that you see as soon as you as you look at these photos. But you also see Selena as the person, because there are moments where she’s acting a little goofy, or she’s being a little bit more somber — you get this whole range of emotions. And I think that really good photographers are able to get us to think about even bigger stars in new ways and experience these known figures in different ways. “

John Dyer (American, born 1947), Selena, 1992, Digital print on panel, 58 x 59 x 1 in. Courtesy of the artist. “Part of it is the music — it’s just great music, and she gained so many fans strictly on the music alone, but when you factor in the entire side of her persona that was focused on fashion and style — the iconic red lipstick, the bedazzled bustiers, the different hats, the high-waisted pants — she exists as a style icon as well, and I think that also adds to her enduring legacy. There was a multitude of ways fans were able to connect with her and continue to connect with her, and iconic celebrities now — Beyonce counts Selena as an influence, Selena Gomez counts her as an influence, and Jennifer Lopez, who played her in the biopic in 1997 — there are all of these really prominent musicians who can point to Selena as an influence.” — Alejo Benedetti, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

“She’s an icon — she has this almost saint-like status,” says Carey. “And, for that reason, it can be easy to see her kind of in a flat way — only as a superstar or to see only the charismatic elements. But I think one thing that the photographs really do is show her in three dimensions. We see that she’s a human, we see that she, like us, must have had all of the ranges of emotions, the good days and the bad days.”

Benedetti says the exhibit is an ideal choice for Northwest Arkansas.

“Part of it is this idea that Selena is an American icon, and John Dyer is a very talented American artist — and obviously, as an American art museum, that’s a perfect combination,” he says. “In Northwest Arkansas, we have a growing Latino population — I’m part of that growing population — and I think that for some of our guests who come to the museum, Selena is going to be very familiar. This is the opportunity for those guests, those super fans, to think about her in a different way. I also think that for guests who have maybe never heard of Selena, these photographs are a really wonderful introduction to this musician and to this artist.”



‘Selena Forever/Siempre Selena’

WHEN — Through Jan. 10, 2022

WHERE — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 600 Museum Way, Bentonville

COST — Free

INFO — 657-2335 or crystalbridges.org

Categories: In The News