Michael Dweck

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Michael Dweck (born September 26, 1957) is an American visual artist and filmmaker known for his suggestive photographic style.[1] The concept of beauty and its aesthetics are important themes in his work and are explored through both figurative and abstract means. In 2003, he became the first living photographer to have a solo show at Sotheby's in New York.[2][3][4] He lives and works in New York City and in Montauk, New York.

The New York hamlet of Montauk, located at the far eastern tip of Long Island, played a formative role in Dweck's work and was the subject of his first major exhibition and book, The End: Montauk, N.Y. Dweck discovered the community in the 1970s and was inspired by its surfer culture.[5]

Early life and education

Dweck was born in Brooklyn in 1957 to David and Sydelle Dweck. The family moved to Bellmore, a town on Long Island about 27 miles east of Manhattan, where David worked as accountant. Dweck's father presented him with his first camera on the occasion of the 1964 New York World's Fair.[1][6]

Dweck graduated from Bellmore's John F. Kennedy High School in 1975.[1] He then attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Initially an architecture student, Dweck switched to communication and fine arts in 1976 at the suggestion of the department, who told him that humor had no place in architecture after, tasked with designing a house for a celebrity, he chose Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.[6] For another project, he designed an AT&T building to resemble a gigantic phone booth.[7] After receiving his bachelor's degree in 1979, he went on to study with artist James Wines and with semiotician Marshall Blonsky at The New School for Social Research.[1]

Dweck & Campbell

While studying at the Pratt Institute, Dweck was exposed to the creative workings of several prominent New York-based advertising agencies, including DDB and Young & Rubicam. Following graduation, seeking to escape the frustration of what he considered to be an uninspirational creative environment, Dweck set out in 1980 to found his own firm, Michael Dweck & Co.[8] In 1992, Lori Campbell joined the firm as a partner to form Dweck & Campbell.[7]

The team quickly earned a reputation for edgy and unconventional work with a mischievous sense of humor.[8] CNN called Dweck a “creative prodigy.”[9] AdWeek's Tim Nudd dubbed him “a master of the absurd.” Producer Larry Shanet, who contributed to many of the agency's television commercials and went on to win numerous industry awards, said of Dweck, "He's not a cookie-cutter guy, and he doesn't make cookie-cutter work."[7] Well-known clients included MTV, Swatch, Comedy Central and Dial-a-Mattress[9][10]

Dweck & Campbell's second television advertisement, promoting retailer Giant Carpet, placed George H.W. Bush during the waning days of his administration vandalizing the White House carpets for then-incoming president Bill Clinton. Clinton's communications director George Stephanopoulos telephoned Dweck to complain that he had “stag[ed] the mock killing of a president-elect.” Under political pressure, network ABC withdrew the ad, but the agency managed to land five slots on NBC's popular late-night comedy show Saturday Night Live. “We knew we'd hit a home run,” Dweck said. Over the next eighteen months, Giant Carpet expanded its operations from four stores to 42.[7]

Still better known was the agency's 1998 television spot for Dial-a-Mattress, which featured a cantankerous man-sized Arctic ground squirrel purchasing a mattress on which to hibernate for the winter.[10][11] The ad, noted for its comic abrasiveness, was pulled from the airwaves after only 13 days.[7] It then went on to win a Gold Lion award at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, and was selected for inclusion in both the Gale Group's 100 most influential marketing campaigns of the year and Boards magazine's Top 10 Boards awards of 1999.[12][13][14]

In April 1999, Lori Campbell left the firm, which was renamed Dweck, Inc., or more simply "Dweck!", with Dweck as chairman and sole creative director.[15] The agency continued to pursue its unorthodox aesthetic sensibilities, and by seventeen months after Campbell's departure had more than doubled its previous year's billings to $50 million.[7] Nearly immediately following the reorganization, Dweck! won the American Association of Advertising Agencies' O'Toole Creative Award for best small agency in the United States.[16][17]Later in 1999, Dweck!'s spots for Top Driver driving school and UPN won awards from Art Directors Club, Association of Independent Commercial Producers, One Club for Art & Copy and the New York Addys.[10][18] Bennett Miller, later best known as the Academy Award-winning director of Capote, helped create Dweck!'s spots for Top Driver, in which hidden cameras recorded conversations between instructors and students.[19] These spots were recognized as the Best Low-Budget Campaign by London International Advertising Awards.[20][21]

In July 2001, Dweck closed the agency and left advertising to concentrate on photography. "I'm a creative," said Dweck, "and I want to get back to working just on creative."[9][22]

Visual artist

In 2002, Dweck began to focus his efforts towards his work in the visual arts. He has expressed his preference for being called a visual artist rather than a photographer, saying "We're entering a time when people think downloading Instagram on your iPhone makes you a photographer, and I think it's important that any true photographer, one who has heart and vision, distances himself or herself from that."[23]

The End: Montauk, N.Y.

After closing his advertising agency, in 2002 Dweck began to photograph subjects and scenes around Montauk, focusing on its surfing subculture. Dweck had been visiting Montauk since his second year of high school, beginning when he'd heard that the Rolling Stones were spending time there with Andy Warhol. Instead of finding the Rolling Stones, Dweck and his friends discovered a hidden inlet with a thriving local surfing culture.[6] The photos evoke "the paradise of summer, youth, and erotic possibility, and of community and camaraderie in a perfect setting." The work is a blend of nostalgia, documentary, and fantasy.[24] Art critic Patrick Hanlon likens The End to “an attempt to freeze time.” Quoting Dweck, “I knew Montauk would change, and I wanted to capture the way Montauk made me feel. I didn’t want it to be sentimental or nostalgic. I wanted that collection of images to freeze Montauk.”[25]

Michael Dweck preparing his Sotheby's installation, New York, September 2003.
Dweck's Sonya, Poles on exhibit at The Louvre in 2004.

Dweck would parlay this collection of art photos into the 2003 solo show at Sotheby's in New York and in 2004 his first book, The End: Montauk, N.Y., published by Harry N. Abrams.[26] The 5,000-print run was sold out in less than three weeks.[27] The brisk sell-out of the book was attributed to its local interest, the beauty of the photography, and the allure of the nude models.[26]

The signature image of the book is Sonya, Poles, described as a portrait of "ecstatic summer" featuring a young woman in "full naked glory... breasts aloft" running across the beach, surfboard tucked under her opposing arm.[28] Hanlon compared Sonya to "Matisse at the beach.”[25] One print of this photo sold for over $17,000, and then another sold for $30,000.[29][30] Esquire Magazine dubbed the image "best surfboard" in its monthly cultural round-up.[31]

Many of the photos from The End were exhibited at numerous galleries and solo exhibitions in New York, Belgium, San Francisco, Monaco, and the Blitz Gallery in Tokyo, and the Gallery Orchard in Nagoya.[32] Dweck's work was also presented at art fairs in Paris and Bologna.

Dweck worried that his photographs would call more unwanted attention to the quiet culture of Montauk, saying:

That's the way it always goes, isn't it? Everyone who makes it to the fallout shelter tries to bolt the door behind him. It's like some graffiti I read in the stall at the Shagwong Tavern. "Welcome to Montauk. Take a picture and get the f--- out."

Here are my pictures. Please, please stay away just a little longer.[33]

In July 2011, it was reported that Kanye West's video director Hype Williams scouted Montauk as a possible site for a music video. Williams was seen with Dweck's book, looking for the locations featured in it.[34]

A second edition of The End: Montauk, N.Y. is currently scheduled for release in July 2016 by Ditch Plains Press on a short run with a very limited distribution. It is projected that only 300 copies are to circulate at a price of $3,000 each, with each copy numbered and signed by Dweck, printed on paper made in Italy's Riva del Garda and “enclosed in a handmade Japanese box.” This limited edition is said to include 85 photographs which were not presented in the first edition.[25]


In 2005, Dweck released a series of triptychs entitled Three, which were exhibited in Tokyo.[35] With ninety images set on 15 foldout pages, only one hundred copies of Three were printed, each signed and numbered.[36]


Dweck's “Mermaid 1” at an exhibition at Maruani & Noirhomme Gallery in Brussels 2008.

Dweck's second book Mermaids was released in 2008 by Ditch Plains Press. Its photographs featured female nudes swimming under water, evoking the legend of the mermaid. As art editor Christopher Sweet described them in his introduction to the book, “Whether diving in the blue refractions of a swimming pool or suspended like a seraph in the cool, pellucid depths of a spring or emerging tentatively onto a rocky shore, Michael Dweck’s mermaids are lovely and aloof and bare of all raiment but for their beautiful manes and the elemental draperies that surround them. Water, light, and lens converge to capture in modern guise the elusive creature of myth.”[37]

Like his previous book, The End: Montauk, N.Y., Mermaids was inspired by Dweck's experiences interacting with the local environment. While night fishing in the waters off Long Island's south shore, Dweck was captivated by the flashing streaks of light caused by fish swimming beneath him. “The idea was, if I happen to fall overboard one night, what would I see down there? Those flashes of light could be mermaids.”[38] [39] [40] Mermaids continued the focus on attractive young people in water settings which characterized The End, but departed from The End's romantic realism to veer into fantasy, with photographs blurring the lines between reality and imagination.[41]

Unlike The End, Mermaids was shot in and through the water, using methods for underwater flash photography developed by Harold Eugene Edgerton.[42] The technology required to house and protect large format cameras was not yet widely available, leading Dweck to design his own cases for the project, using weights and pulleys to manipulate the camera.[41] To obtain the desired angles for the shots, Dweck used two different techniques, diving into the water with his subjects, either with a long snorkel or unaided, and shooting from behind a glass wall placed within the river. As Dweck explained it:

I just started to experiment. I said to myself, "OK, I have light, I have a lens and I have water"[38]

Rather than use professional models, Dweck turned to women with the experience needed to move comfortably and naturally in underwater environments, including friends from his native Long Island's East End as well as residents of the rural fishing village Aripeka, Florida. Shooting took place both locally in Montauk and Amagansett and in the Weeki Wachee River, where some inhabitants of Aripeka, located on a nearby island in the Gulf of Mexico, had been employed to perform at the Weeki Wachee Springs waterpark while costumed as mermaids.[41] [43] [44][45] According to Christopher Sweet, Dweck met a performer who had been raised in Aripeka and had spent her life in and around water, who then introduced him to other local girls, “some of whom could hold their breath underwater for as long as five or six minutes.”[37]

One of Dweck's mermaids on an outdoor mural at the 2015 Canvas art fair in West Palm Beach

Photographs from Mermaids were exhibited at galleries in New York, Los Angeles, London, Belgium and Hamburg. Playboy France featured selections in its October 2008 edition under the title "Le Bal des Sirènes."[46] [47] One gelatin silver print from the collection entitled "Mermaid 1" sold at auction in 2009 at Christie's in London for over $17,000, well over initial estimates.[48] In May 2015, Dweck's "Mermaid 18" sold for £27,500 at Phillips London, over double the initial estimate.[49]

For West Palm Beach's Canvas art fair in November 2015, Dweck mounted several murals near the Nicole Henry Fine Art gallery. These murals featured oversized prints of Dweck's mermaids swimming away from the viewer into a black background.[50] [51]

On November 17, 2015, Elin Nordegren held a dinner in Dweck's honor at her beachfront home in North Palm Beach, Florida, with guests including Chris Cline and Laura Norman, both of whom, like Nordegren, are avid collectors of Dweck's work. Dishes prepared by her personal chef were based upon themes drawn from both Mermaids and Dweck's earlier work, The End: Montauk, NY.[52]

Habana Libre

Dweck at Havana's Fototeca de Cuba museum during his exhibit Habana Libre in February 2012.

Dweck's third book, Habana Libre (Free Havana,) was published by Damiani editore and depicted the glamourous lives of the privileged class in modern Cuba. The book includes rare interviews with the sons of Fidel Castro and of Che Guevara, and it focuses largely on the "creative culture" of Cuba.[53] Other subjects of this book include "artists of the farandula's sophisticated and socially connected circle," such as musicians Francis de Rio and Kelvis Ochoa, painters Rene Francisco, Rachel Valdez and Carlos Quintana, dancer Yaday Ponce Toscano and novelist Leonardo Padura.[54] Photographer and critic Elin Spring characterizes Dweck's black and white gelatin silver prints of Havana as “positively electric.”[55]

Dweck standing with "Giselle and Rachel" and "Legs" during an exhibit of Habana Libre at Miami Beach's Art Basel in December 2012.

The book was featured in The New York Times, which documents Dweck's eight return visits to the island.[56] A review in Miami New Times notes that "it's hard to tell if [Dweck is] glamorizing the privilege or slyly exposing the hypocrisy of the myth of communist equality".[57] Highlighting the book, a feature pictorial story, "Elit Küba", appeared in the Turkish magazine Tempo.[58][59] An opinion column in El País noted how the sons of revolutionaries had undeniably broken a tacit pact with their elders, not to give aid to an American documentary of their lives; but perhaps they could not stand the constraint of the political party any longer.[60]

New York's Staley-Wise Gallery opened an exhibit of Dweck's work -- Habana Libre and The End: Montauk, N.Y.—to coincide with the release of the Habana Libre book on December 9, 2011. According to Dweck, both places have "aesthetic" similarities. However, as he discovered, both have much more in common: "Here are two worldly paradises, both built-up in the 50's and preserved since – for better or worse; both populated by insular groups in some kind of isolation, whether it's self or externally imposed; both beset by threats from without and by new hierarchies from within." [61] Dweck's exhibit at Staley-Wise ran through late January 2012.

Starting February 24 and running through March 24, 2012, Dweck was the first American contemporary artist to mount a solo exhibition in Cuba since the US embargo on that country began.[62][63] Dweck also "made history" with a much larger than expected turnout for the February 24 opening as the museum was "expecting 300 or so guests" but instead, when Dweck arrived, he was "greeted by a crowd of about 2,000 Artists, Ambassadors, and Media outside, who weren't allowed in until he got there." [64]

Dweck's exhibit at Fototeca de Cuba showcased images from his book but "presented in greater scale using an unconventional paper and special printing technique that were created especially for the exhibition."[54] Of the added touch in the exhibit, Dweck said, "I've been given the honor of being one of the first living American artists to exhibit in Cuba, I felt I had to present something additional as a show of respect and gratitude. The unique motif is meant to honor the beauty of the island's past, reflect the heat of the people and serves as a reflection of their spirit, their future, their potential."[54]

During the exhibit's opening, Dweck announced a gift of "all 52 photographs to the Fototeca Museum and the Cuban people. The gift's value is estimated around $500,000."[65]That same evening, Alex Castro and Camilo Guevara toured the upstairs exhibit, protected with armed bodyguards. Another of Fidel Castro's sons, Alejandro Castro, later humorously said to Dweck, "Thanks for making me famous."[63]


Dweck's surfboard The Duke's Mermaid, named after Duke Kahanamoku, exhibited at Art Basel in Miami Beach.

Recently, Dweck has revisited themes from his first two bodies of work, The End and Mermaids, to create customized surfboards emblazoned with black-and-white silhouette images of mermaids.[41] Dweck describes himself as a casual surfer, and the boards are ridable as well as works of art.[66] The surfboards measure six feet and six inches in length and are handcrafted in California, where silk-screen prints of Dweck's photographs are coated with fiberglass and high-gloss resin to create what ArtDaily describes as “beautiful, handmade surfboard-shaped sculptures that seamlessly merge Dweck’s subject and medium.”[42][67] They are named after figures who have influenced Dweck's career, such as Harold "Doc" Edgerton, who developed techniques for underwater flash photography used extensively in Mermaids, and Duke Kahanamoku who is widely credited with popularizing the sport of surfing.[42] ArtDaily quotes Dweck saying of his surfboards:

'“I love the implied movement of these forms, as well as the smooth, fluid shapes. They become vehicles that transport you to other places… I would like people to have a transporting experience with the work.”[67]

On November 6, 2015 at Philip's London, Dweck's surfboard The Duke's Mermaid (Sapphire) sold for a world record of $57,000, ranking in the top ten lots for the auction.[68] Another was auctioned in a benefit for Southampton Hospital[66][69][70]


Dweck is currently directing his first 90-minute feature film entitled Blunderbust, which explores and documents the culture of amateur stock car drivers at the Riverhead Raceway in Riverhead, New York and laments the impending destruction of the raceway, the last of what were once 40 on Long Island, at the hands of "big-box" stores.[71][72] Like The End, it builds upon Dweck's attachment to his native Long Island, but with an overtly sociopolitical message not found in previous works. As Dweck states in the synopsis of the film:

On March 5th, the 10,818th Walmart broke ground in the town of Riverhead NY. No big deal, right? You drive along just about any road in America and soon enough you are bound to hit one, and if not a Walmart, it’ll be any of the other big box stores that have come to define 21st century American arcmhitecture. Interchangeable concrete boxes with corporate logos tacked on front. They are all the same, and maybe that’s the idea.[73]

The Independent Filmmaker Project selected Blunderbust, which it described as “the story of a small town American racetrack fighting for survival when land hungry corporations come to town,” for inclusion in its 2014 Spotlight on Documentaries.[74] Currently in post production, Blunderbust is scheduled for release in 2016.[75] The film's release is to be accompanied by a touring exhibit of physical artworks.[42]

Other works

Snoecks published a series of Dweck's work titled Sex Bombs which features photographs of nuclear and other military missiles.[76] Dweck also produced another project that features oversized Polaroid instant camera pictures, called Giant Polaroids: Pin Up.[77] The Polaroids were taken with a rare Polaroid 20x24 large format camera.

Published works

  • The End: Montauk, N.Y., 2004, ISBN 0-8109-5008-1[78][79]
  • The Girls of Montauk, 2007, Playboy – (also with model Reby Sky)[80]
  • Mermaids, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9818465-0-7[40]
  • Habana Libre, 2011, ISBN 978-88-6208-184-9[53]

Noteworthy photographs

  • Sonya, Poles – Montauk, NY, 2002. Sold at auction in 2009 at Christie's in London for over $17,000.[29] In March 2010, Dweck filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against a New York-based clothing company, accusing them of using his Sonya, Poles photograph in their advertisements without permission.[81][82][83] Another print then sold in 2011 for $30,000.[30]
  • Lilla – Napeague Beach, Montauk, NY, 2002. Sold at auction for £2,200.[84]
  • Dave and Pam in their Caddy – Montauk, NY, 2002. Sold at auction in 2009 at Christie's in London for over $12,000.[85]
  • Mermaid 1 – Amagansett, NY, 2005. Sold at auction in 2009 at Christie's in London for over $17,000.[48]
  • Mermaid 18 – Weeki Wachee, FL. Sold at auction in 2011 at Bukowskis in Stockholm for $20,657.[86]
  • Surf's Up 1 – Montauk, NY, 2006. Sold at auction in 2009 at Christie's in London for over $32,000, then in 2014 at Phillips for over $46,000.[87][88]


  • February 25 – April 23, 2016: Michael Dweck: Paradise Lost, Blitz Gallery, Tokyo.[89][90]
  • May 7 – August 29, 2015: Michael Dweck: Nymphs & Sirens, MODERNISM, San Francisco.[67][91]
  • July 11 – September 13, 2014: Michael Dweck & Howard Schatz: Underwater, Staley Wise Gallery. New York, NY.[92]
  • February 24 – March 24, 2012: Michael Dweck: Habana Libre, Fototeca de Cuba Museum, Havana.
  • December 9, 2011 – January 28, 2012: Michael Dweck: The End and Habana Libre, Staley Wise Gallery. New York, NY.
  • December 2, 2011 – February 25, 2012: Habana Libre, Blitz Gallery. Tokyo, Japan.
  • November 17 – December 8, 2011: Michael Dweck: Island Life, Izzy Gallery. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
  • December 30, 2010 – February 15, 2011: Michael Dweck: Giant Pin-Up Polaroids, Maruani & Noirhomme Gallery. Knokke, Belgium.
  • September 8 – October 29, 2011: Habana Libre, MODERNISM. San Francisco, CA.[93]
  • September 16 – October 25, 2010: American Mermaid, Acte 2 Galerie. Paris, France, in collaboration with Maruani & Noirhomme Gallery.
  • June 24 – August 28, 2010: Michael Dweck: Paradise Lost, MODERNISM. San Francisco, CA.
  • January 24 – March 14, 2009: Mermaids, Gallery Orchard. Nagoya, Japan.
  • October 15 – December 15, 2008: Mermaids, Blitz Gallery. Tokyo, Japan.
  • September 19 – November 10, 2008: Mermaids, Robert Morat Galerie. Hamburg, Germany.
  • September 13 – October 4, 2008: Michael Dweck: Mermaids, The End, and Flowers, Keszler Gallery. Southampton, NY.
  • June 19 – September 1, 2008: Mermaids, Staley Wise Gallery. New York, NY.
  • May 15 – September 1, 2008: Mermaids, Delphine Pastor Galery, Monte Carlo, Monaco in collaboration with Maruani & Noirhomme Gallery.
  • March 1 – April 20, 2008: Michael Dweck, Maruani & Noirhomme Gallery. Knokke, Belgium.
  • November 17 – December 28, 2006: A Surfer's Life, Nagoya, Tokyo, Japan.
  • May 30 – July 15, 2006: A Surfer's Life, Blitz House. Meguro-ku and Shimomeguro. Tokyo, Japan.
  • April 1–29, 2006: A Surfer's Life, Gallery Orchard, Oosu, Naka-Ku, Japan.
  • September 30 – November 15, 2005: Three, Aoyama. Tokyo, Japan.
  • September 2003: The End: Montauk, NY, Sotheby's. New York, NY.


  • 1998 – Gold Lion – Cannes International Festival for Arctic Ground Squirrel[12][94]
  • 2000 – Advertising Excellence – AICP – Work entered into the permanent collection of the Department of Film, Museum of Modern Art, New York.[95]