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Forever cool

Dead at 24 when his Porsche Spyder collided with an oncoming car on Calif. Hwy. 41, James Dean joined the member's-only death cult of the beautiful and the damned whose early bow-outs include JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain.

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Like some of the key inventions of the 20th century — abstract expressionism, the hydrogen bomb — James Dean's rebel-cool image has become an icon of that era, a harbinger of the disaffected '60s youth culture to come, and a powerful dose of male sex appeal. James Dean & Roy Schatt: The Mirrored Psyche at the Lowe Gallery shows that the Dean image still dazzles posthumously. Like the recent exhibition of Bob Dylan photographs at Barbara Archer Gallery, the Dean exhibit suggests a desire to revisit old icons since our new Paris Hilton and reality TV humanoids are such a misery.

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The photographs are vintage prints made by Schatt in 1954 when he shot Dean for a Life magazine spread. In head shots taken from every angle, Schatt's gaze was adoringly homoerotic and comprehensive, delivering a 360-degree view of the American cinema's young lion, a skim of grease settled onto his petulant features, which flutter on a border between boyhood and manhood.

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Dean plays the part of the adored well, turning on the knitted brow and scornful gaze, the calling cards of the Method genius slouching through Hollywood's Babylon. Schatt occasionally captured more extemporaneous shots as well, such as Dean gazing off into space in "Dean at Desk," his features slacker, softer, shockingly boyish and unrehearsed, as if his professional mask had momentarily slipped. Contained within the images is one of the most famous of Dean in baggy khakis standing in the middle of New York City's 68th Street West. The heartthrob image is still sold in poster form in NYC gift shops and continues to fuel countless Abercrombie and Gap all-American wet dreams.

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The real surprise comes in a small suite of pictures Dean took during Schatt's photo sessions. Dean forces Schatt to assume a role much like Dean does in his photos. Schatt plays the model, posing and preening. And in one shot loaded with subtext, Dean poses Schatt with a knife held high above his head, suggesting a violence to the camera's obsessive probing.

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James Dean & Roy Schatt: The Mirrored Psyche, through Dec. 31 at the Lowe Gallery, 75 Bennett St., A-2. Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 404-352-8114. www.lowegallery.com.



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