Bonnie Lautenberg, an artist, photographer, and writer based in New York and Palm Beach, United States. Photo © Lynn Becerra

Tell us about your recent museum exhibitions, and tell us more about what your work aims to say.

I am so honored that the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU selected my work for the museum’s headline exhibition, a solo show during Art Basel Miami Beach/Miami Art Week, especially at this time in our history when women’s issues are at the forefront. I admire the women in these works for their spirit of freedom.

The exhibition includes my photography alongside my conceptual artworks, and my series of portrayals of the Statue of Liberty confronting some of today’s most challenging issues ‒ including Lady Liberty confronting gun safety issues, raising awareness about women’s reproductive rights, and the pandemic.

The way that this exhibition came together, at this pivotal time in history, is exciting because visitors to the museum tell me they are inspired by seeing all of these images of powerful women.

Hidden Figures film-still paired with the artwork “Tomorrow is Another Day” by Mark Bradford (both the film and the artwork were made in 2016). Digital collage created by Bonnie Lautenberg in 2021.

One of her works in this exhibition is in the permanent collection of the New York Historical Society Museum’s Center for the Study of American Culture and was featured in the Historical Society’s exhibition about how New York artists found original ways to express their appreciation for health care workers during the pandemic.

Where do you find inspiration for your art?

I often find inspiration for my art from what I see as current, important issues happening all around us. When I created “Even Lady Liberty Lost Some of Her Freedom, 2020” during the pandemic, I used an image of Lady Liberty with an American Flag mask on her face, printing it three times, and changing the background colors to represent our American flag colors.

I was so honored to have been asked by the David Benrimon Fine Art Gallery in New York City if I would like to be in their exhibition titled Rethinking America, with other works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Robert Longo, Ed Ruscha, and Deb Kass.

Could you give us some insight into your creative process?

My photography is quite varied, and my subjects range from everyday people I encounter during my travels, to rock stars and celebrities, to political leaders. One of my timely new works that were featured in this solo museum show during Art Basel Miami Beach is titled Tears of Roe.

Harriet Tubman (2022) collage by Bonnie Lautenberg, including a film-still from the movie Harriet, paired with a historic archival photograph of Harriet Tubman, tree bark, and a Wanted poster

This conceptual piece is meant to lament the current challenges to women’s freedoms making headlines today in America, so I added tears running down the Statue of Liberty’s cheeks and the word Roe added to her crown. Another new work in this show is titled Wanted, honoring the historical icon Harriet Tubman who bravely led enslaved Black people to freedom in the 1800s without ever getting caught.

This diptych features one of the notorious “Wanted” posters from that era that slave owners used to try to capture Tubman. Alongside this Wanted poster, I juxtaposed historic images of Tubman next to actress Cynthia Erivo, who portrayed the freedom fighter in the 2019 film Harriet.

In my series Pop Rocks, I photographed Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and other pop stars during their live concert performances ‒ and these photographs work together very well with the other images of strong women that are featured in this museum exhibition. When people walked through the museum gallery they were struck by these large-scale photos and images of women championing freedom. When viewed together as a group of works, their intensity is multiplied.

Triple Gaga, photo of Lady Gaga by Bonnie Lautenberg (2010)
Seduce Me, photo of Lady Gaga by Bonnie Lautenberg (2010)

The recent exhibition was recognized by Artnet News as one of the “Must-See Museum Shows During Art Basel Miami Beach” and as “One of the Hottest Exhibitions During Art Basel Miami Beach” by Elite Traveler Magazine. The exhibition was on view from November of 2022 until May 2023 and was extended by the museum for two additional months.

“In my series of digital collages titled “Art Meets Hollywood: Artistica” I celebrate femme fatales for breaking through barriers in male-dominated times. These stars inspired our popular culture with nods to freedom in their own singular ways, and I include Barbra Streisand, Viola Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Octavia Spencer, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, and Olivia Newton-John, among others.

In each diptych/digital collage, I paired scenes from their famous films alongside iconic works of art that were created in the same year as each movie. I wanted to channel the creative zeitgeist these women might have inspired between filmmakers and visual artists during each year that I chronicled in this series”.

Grand Hotel film-still paired with the artwork “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1” by Georgia O’Keeffe (both the film and the artwork were made in 1932). Digital collage created by Bonnie Lautenberg in 2018.

In one of the pairings, Lautenberg plays matchmaker to the 1957 movie Funny Face by combining Audrey Hepburn’s bold cinematic pose alongside Clifford Still’s painting PH971 ‒ both majestic and glamorous. When viewed together this way in the museum gallery, the combination seems to make perfect sense, as if they were made for each other. In another digital collage that was featured in the exhibition, Lautenberg combines a scene from the film Hidden Figures with the painting by Mark Bradford Tomorrow is Another Day.

“Throughout art history, artists have always been influenced by some force going on in the world around them. I started thinking about how artists who work in different art forms might have influenced each other. I decided to explore how one art form can influence another”.

In 2022, the Boca Raton Museum of Art presented a solo exhibition of Lautenberg’s “Art Meets Hollywood” series, and this show also attracted a lot of attention from the national media. In press interviews about this exhibition, Irvin Lippman (the Boca Raton Museum’s Executive Director) stated:

“Lautenberg pulls together visuals she feels speak to each other, taking us along on her colorful trip to explore how these two art forms have amazing parallels and are beautifully paired. She brings to life each moment in time and the spark of creativity these pairings might have shared. Lautenberg possesses a keen eye for the visual elements of humanity and culture that arise. The brilliance of these juxtapositions is how she illuminates the psychological connections between each film scene and artwork”.

Funny Face film-still paired with the artwork “PH971” by Clyfford Still (both the film and the artwork were made in 1957). Digital collage created by Bonnie Lautenberg in 2021.

As seen in this video from the opening reception at the museum, Gene Kelly’s widow (Patricia Ward Kelly) visited Lautenberg’s exhibition. Mrs. Kelly can be seen in the video celebrating Lautenberg’s work featuring a film still from one of Gene Kelly’s films.

In 2022, Lautenberg was appointed by the White House to the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts (PACA) which sustains and guides the Kennedy Center, the National Cultural Center of the United States. Because of her experience living in Washington DC for many years, Bonnie Lautenberg has been described as “having enough Washington insider stories to write a book”.

“I lived in Washington, DC for many years and it makes sense to me that my work would be influenced by political thought. My late husband, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, was a United States Senator for 28 years and was greatly admired for the work he did.

He was quite prolific and wrote several important laws, including the law that banned smoking on airplanes, the law that changed the legal drinking age to 21, and drunk-driving legislation. He wrote the only federal gun law that passed the Senate prior to the bill that passed last year. It stopped spousal abusers from getting gun permits. I give him credit for influencing me in so many positive ways”.

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords with the artwork “Guns Kill” (2022) by Bonnie Lautenberg. The artwork was selected for a national gun safety awareness campaign by the Giffords Foundation to Fight Gun Violence. Photo by Lynn Becerra

Lautenberg’s portrait of President Obama is in the collection of the African American Museum of History and Culture, and the Newark Art Museum. Lautenberg’s series of portraits titled “How They Changed Our Lives: Senators As Working People” was exhibited at Mana Contemporary in New Jersey, and is now in the Library of Congress permanent collection, viewable online.

“I met with every single Senator of the 109th Congress (2005-2007) one by one, and I photographed them individually. I asked all the Senators about what they are most proud of in their Senate career, and about what each of them considered to be their legacy piece of legislation”.

Lautenberg’s new artwork “Guns Kill” was also in the museum exhibition during Art Basel Miami Beach, and was selected by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords for a major national awareness campaign about gun safety.

“When Gabby Giffords visited my home in 2022, I was preparing my artworks for installation at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, and she was deeply moved by my “Tears of Roe” work. We agreed that this Lady Liberty image could also help spread the message about the need for gun safety legislation, so I created this new work especially for Gabby Giffords and for her cause, and titled it “Guns Kill”.

This led to Gabby visiting the exhibition at the museum and announcing that this work would become part of her organization’s new national campaign, and I was so honored and glad to help this important cause”.

What are some of your future projects?

Later this year, in the fall of 2023, my new book will be published by Rutgers University Press. My new book is in honor of my late husband Frank Lautenberg, and features my political photography.

Even Lady Liberty Lost Some of Her Freedoms (2020), by Bonnie Lautenberg. Dye sublimation onto aluminum

Interview by Fabio Pariante, journalist Twitter  Instagram


Bonnie Lautenberg: Instagram – Website