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New Britain Museum of American Art exhibits recently acquired Kate O'Donovan Cook's "The Mirror"
O’Donovan Cook’s painterly photographs reflect her strong visual and narrative heritage.


NEW BRITAIN, CONN.- Kate O’Donovan Cook is both artist and subject within her works. She creates images in which the line between the subject, the viewer, and the artist intertwine. While her photographs are created in a style that seems, at first, to present a clear, underlying story, O’Donovan Cook manipulates the perspective to put the viewer off balance.

Her use of digital technology allows her to present herself as multiple people within a single image. She plays both the man and woman in her Waldorf Series, three women looking out to sea in Trinity: The Ocean, all the performers in the dressing room in Webster, and a beautiful young woman enmeshed in vines and flowers growing out of her fingertips in The Dream.

The New Britain Museum of American Art recently acquired O’Donovan Cook’s The Mirror, in which the artist takes the photograph and also appears as both male and female characters in the work. As part of her Waldorf Series, the work depicts an assignation in a hotel room between a man and a woman. We are left to determine if this is a moment preceding great happiness or a moment of parting and sorrow. The body language and facial features of the characters seem at a balancing point in which the next word or motion can lead us in either direction. The identity of the characters and their relation is also called into question by O’Donovan Cook’s role as both man and woman within the photograph.

O’Donovan Cook’s painterly photographs reflect her strong visual and narrative heritage. Her father was the painter Gordon Cook (1927-1985), her grandfather, Irish master storyteller Frank O’Connor (1903-1966), her grandmother actress Evelyn Bowen, whose costumes O’Donovan Cook used for dress-up and play as a child. Her own education began with dance training at the San Francisco Ballet before studying art at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She then enrolled in the Maryland Institute College of Art where she earned an MFA degree in 2010. Heritage and training all combine to build a range of skills as model, actor, storyteller, photographer, and artist that are clearly displayed in her work.

There is much of the reflective in O’Donovan Cook’s work – mirror images reflecting her various personas seem a fitting metaphor for today’s world in which there is no escape from the cameras or screens that capture and captivate us. O’Donovan Cook’s work also focuses on identity, both personal and sexual. Who are we really? What is our real, true self and what is artifice, superficiality, and self -delusion? How have we become alienated from our “authentic self?” O’Donovan Cook invites us to explore these questions through her photographs and this exhibition.





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