Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Faces: Chuck Close and Contemporary Portraiture Tour Blueprint

Faces: Chuck Close and Contemporary Portraiture features artworks selected from the San Francisco collection of Doris and Donald Fisher, founders of the GAP Corporation. The works in the exhibition reflect the Fishers’ interest in collecting a broadly representative body of contemporary art of the highest quality—so much so that they are currently in negotiations to build a new museum on the Presidio in San Francisco to be called CAMP (Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio).

The artworks selected for this exhibition represent just a fraction of the Fishers’ extensive collection of contemporary art; here viewers’ attention is focused on contemporary expressions of ideas about portraiture, raising new questions about one of the oldest genres of art in the historical periods (the oldest extant portrait to date is approximately 27,000 years old in southwestern France).

This exhibition is generously sponsored by International Game Technology with additional support from the Portrait Society of Reno.

Text Panels

FACES: Chuck Close and Contemporary Portraiture
Portraiture is one of art’s oldest genres, with roots tracing back to the ancient Egyptian era. Defined as a painting, photograph, or sculpture in which the human face is depicted, a traditional portrait aims to capture a human likeness—sometimes in an idealized manner and at other times with stark accuracy.

Beginning in the twentieth century, however, many artists began to challenge the conventions of the genre. Does a portrait need a human face to be considered valid? Can a portrait be employed as part of a larger social or political message? The contemporary artists in this exhibition are noted for the innovative ways they explore the answers to these questions. Whether examining issues related to history and popular culture, or investigating personal identity and autobiography, the artworks in this exhibition are as varied and diverse as the artists who made them.

Chuck Close
A leading figure in contemporary American art since the 1970s, Chuck Close is celebrated for his successful efforts to reinvigorate the field of modern portraiture. Best known for the monumental faces he has painted, photographed, printed, and most recently woven into tapestries, Close developed a formal methodology based on color and structural analysis that radically departs from traditional modes of portraiture. The process of making these large-scale works is labor intensive—taking anywhere from four months to two years to complete a painting—and requires collaboration from a range of assistants.

Chuck Close Tapestries
Chuck Close's tapestries were woven in collaboration with Magnolia Editions, a fine art studio in Oakland, California. Magnolia Editions' innovative approach to the time-honored medium of tapestry brings together a printmaker's eye for color and a scientist's attention to accuracy to create Jacquard weavings using electronic and digital technologies ordinarily limited to industrial production.

Proprietary color matching techniques developed by Magnolia Editions were used to create sophisticated digital weave files that were then sent to a small, family-owned
mill in Belgium that owns a customized, seven-foot-wide loom. Each pixel of the weave file represents a weave structure (a combination of colored threads); thus, each weave structure results in a unique color. As the tapestries are woven directly from a computer reading the weave file—with no interference or mediation from weavers—the artist maintains complete control over the final work.

Close's tapestries are woven from scans of daguerreotype portraits of the artist's friends and contemporaries, including Philip Glass, Lorna Simpson, Kiki Smith, and Kate Moss.

Philip Glass is an American music composer. He is a prolific music writer, having written three Oscar-winning scores for films.

Lorna Simpson is an important African American artist. In a 2007 Artinfo interview, she interestingly said with regard to self-portraiture: “I do not appear in any of my work. I think maybe there are elements to it and moments to it that I use from my own personal experience, but that, in and of itself, is not so important as what the work is trying to say about either the way we interpret experience or the way we interpret things about identity.”

Kiki Smith is an American artist best known for her sculpture, although she works in many media. Her work focuses on issues related to gender and identity. She is a member of the artist collaborative known as Colab.

Kate Moss is an English supermodel.

Jacquard tapestries refer to tapestries woven on Jacquard looms, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801.

Polaroid Polacolor photograph, masking tape, pencil and ink on mounted Foamcore

To make a painting, Chuck Close begins with a photograph of the person he wants to depict—in this case the artist James Siena. Close overlays the photograph with a hand-drawn grid, and then he draws a second grid on a large canvas. Then, he fills each square on the canvas with rings of colors that—when viewed from a distance—appear as an average hue. When seen up close, the gridded squares appear similar to computer-generated pixels, but when seen from afar the overall face emerges clearly.

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #97, 98, 99, 100
Color coupler prints

This series of self-portraits, sometimes referred to as the Pink Robe series, is Cindy Sherman’s follow-up to her legendary Untitled Film Stills produced in the late 1970s. In these images, Sherman says she was “thinking of the idea of the centerfold model. The pictures were meant to look like a model just after she’d been photographed for a centerfold.” By completely concealing herself with a pink chenille robe and directing her gaze forcefully towards the viewer, Sherman aims to frustrate—both psychologically and emotionally—anyone who approaches the photograph. Unlike traditional centerfold photographs that typically objectify the female body, Sherman used techniques to subvert the vulnerability of the female model, allowing her to resist exploitation.

Ask guests to consider the differences between a self-portrait and a portrait—aside from the obvious, are there conceptual or methodological differences between a portrait of oneself and a portrait of someone else?

Explain that a central question about portraits has centered on whether the images are more like mirrors reflecting the viewer’s interests/needs/desires on the sitter, or whether they are more like windows revealing the identity of the sitter.

Explain that Cindy Sherman’s work poses significant challenges to this question, as for her most famous series of portraits, Untitled Film Stills, she dresses up as numerous female characters from film and popular culture and photographs herself. These images are thus not self-portraits in any strict sense of the word.

Ask guests to think about how women are or have been represented in different kinds of media. What kinds of stereotypes of women exist as a result of media portrayals?

Ask guests to consider why or how they think that Sherman’s work might ask us to engage with such questions.

Andy Warhol
One of the most influential and provocative artists of the twentieth century, Andy Warhol looked to images of American popular culture, fame, stardom and glamour to create some of the most iconic and defining portraits of our time. Throughout his career Warhol captured faces ranging from those of musicians and movie stars to political figures—including Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, Mick Jagger, and Dolly Parton.

[I did find this wonderful quotation from an interview with Tyson Meade in 2001 for Interview magazine:

Dolly: “He was the only person I’ve met that’s weirder than me, that dressed worse and looked stranger. And didn’t care, just like me. I would always ask him, “What do you look like under that wig?”, and he’d reply, “What do you look like under that one?” I’d say, “Well, you’ll never know,” and he’d say, “Well, you’ll never know!”] –KD

Gerhard Richter
German artist Gerhard Richter is best known for oscillating between abstraction and representational imagery using a variety of media ranging from oils and watercolor to overpainted photographs. In the early 1990s, Richter created a series of mirror paintings using blood-red, color-coated glass that reflects whatever comes before it—whether it be the paintings hanging opposite it in the gallery or museum visitors walking in front of it. In undertaking this series of mirrors, Richter joined a centuries-old conversation in the field of Western art about whether artworks actually depict an authentic reality. Richter once noted that a mirror painting, “is the only picture that always looks different. And perhaps there's an allusion somewhere to the fact that every picture is a mirror.”

[Gerhard Richter was born in 1932 in Eastern Germany. He emigrated in 1961. His training had been in orthodox Communist-bloc Realist painting. He soon made a name for himself with three different types of work, uniquely his own: schematic, Minimalist abstracts; splashy, messy abstracts; and finely painted soft-focus photographic imagery–the latter his best-known work. In this show he has painted a mirror blood red so that the viewer can be the subject of the portrait.] –KD

Ask guests to consider why a piece called Mirror Painting (Blood Red)—essentially an abstract piece—would be included in a portraiture exhibition.

Ask guests what does a mirror require them to do?

Richard Artschwager
Richard Artschwager came of age at the height of the Pop Art movement in New York during the late 1950s; he also saw the emergence of Photorealist painting over the next decade. Like the Pop artists, Artschwager often looked to popular magazines and well-known personalities as subjects for his paintings—such as this portrait of beloved Manhattan art gallery owner Holly Solomon. With a background in commercial production (Artschwager also managed a furniture factory in New York for nearly ten years), he was introduced to mass-produced materials such as Celotex, onto which he painted this portrait.

[Artschwager was born in Washington, DC in 1923 but was raised in New Mexico. He received a BFA from Cornell University in 1948, his schooling having been interrupted by a tour in the US army in World War II. Through his long career as a sculptor and painter he has resisted categorization. In a 1988 review of an Artschwager retrospective Roberta Smith of the New York Times says: “Throughout the 1960s, his idiosyncratic, multi-faceted work hovered in the vicinity of Pop, Minimalism and Photo-Realism without ever requesting permission to land. A master of the reconstructed readymade, an assiduous manipulator of appropriated images, forms and uningratiating, non-art materials (often within the same hybridized painting-sculpture), Mr. Artschwager established himself as a free agent, a jack-of-all-trades.”

In this portrait of Holly Solomon, a prominent New York art collector/dealer, Artschwager chose to use his favorite painting surface -- a canvas-weave vinyl called Celotex. He is known for these paintings on Celotex as well as for abstracted furniture forms and faux-wood painting on countless surfaces.] –KD

Joel Sternfeld
Joel Sternfeld has been praised for his efforts to carry on the venerable documentary tradition of compiling a collective portrait of America. Similar projects were undertaken by photographers such as Walker Evans in the 1930s and Robert Frank two decades later. In 2001, Sternfeld published Stranger Passing, a series of sixty portraits that he took of Americans he encountered during his cross-country trips. The title Stranger Passing refers to Walt Whitman’s poem, “To a Stranger,” from Leaves of Grass:

Passing stranger! you do not know
How longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking,
Or she I was seeking
(It comes to me as a dream)

I have somewhere surely
Lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other,
Fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,

You grew up with me,
Were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become
not yours only nor left my body mine only,

You give me the pleasure of your eyes,
face, flesh as we pass,
You take of my beard, breast, hands,
in return,

I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you
when I sit alone or wake at night, alone
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again

I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

[Joel Sternfeld was born in New York City in 1944. He earned a BFA from Dartmouth and began working with color photography in the 1970s, having been drawn to it through his interest in the color theory of Josef Albers. He uses an 8 x 10” camera, enabling him to achieve crisp detail. His subjects are found everywhere in the country, doing, for the most part, everyday things. His goal has been to search out a collective American identity. He labels each large color portrait with great detail, sometimes ironic, often poignant.] –KD

Günther Forg
German-born artist Günther Forg works in a wide variety of media. Claiming unlimited freedom in his art production, he treats materials in unconventional ways and quotes art-historical precedents as he wishes. Often associated with Minimalism because of his frequent use of the color gray and the simplicity of his compositions, Forg is also sometimes compared to an Abstract Expressionist painter because of his bold brushstrokes. This work also includes one of Forg’s large-scale photographs.

Sophie Calle
With the zeal of an investigator and the obsession of a voyeur, French artist Sophie Calle probes the border between public and private in her own life and the lives of others. In her series of Autobiographical Stories, Calle looks to her own past for incidents with deep psychological resonance. By recounting a memory about her own bed—and the man who later killed himself in it—she suggests that portraits of personal objects can convey powerful truths in the same way that human portraits do.

[Sophie Calle was born in France in 1953. She is described variously as a photographer, writer, videographer, Conceptual artist and an installation artist. With a cool documentary style Calle explores the interface of our private selves and public lives. She often orchestrates what she films. She has filmed people (friends, acquaintances) sleeping in her bed. She has followed strangers and recorded all they do in a day. She has hired a detective to follow her and record what she does (unbeknownst to her). She admits to being a voyeur, of other people’s lives and of her own.

Her work in the late 1980s, Autobiographical Stories, deals with memories of her past. The Bed, the photograph in this show, deals with a story from her life. Her parents had rented out her room after she had left home. The renter set himself on fire in the bed she had slept in for seventeen years. Calle photographed from an upper storey window the ruined, discarded mattress on the ground below. One critic, discussing the Autobiographical Stories series, states: “Despite its deep psychological resonance, the self-revealing aspect of Autobiographical Stories is tempered by a cool and distanced sensibility.”] --KD

Jim Dine
Jim Dine’s The Yellow Painting asks us to consider whether a human face is necessary for a painting to be considered a portrait. Dine is often associated with the 1960s Pop Art movement because he frequently incorporated common everyday objects into his work. Unlike many Pop artists, however, Dine developed a personal, symbolic language over the years and his work frequently makes autobiographical references. In The Yellow Painting, Dine affixes his own tools—including bolt-cutters, pliers, and brushes—to the canvas, implying that these instruments might stand in for himself.

[Jim Dine was born in 1935 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He studied art at the Boston School of
Applied Arts and received a BFA from Ohio University. He moved to New York in 1959 and was soon involved with the artists who were moving away from abstract impressionism and moving toward the creation of Pop Art. But Dine’s work is far more personal than that of most Pop artists. As a child Dine was fascinated with the racks of tools in his family’s hardware store, and these tools became a frequent personal motif in his work, along with artists’ tools and domestic objects. In The Yellow Painting in this show we see (maybe) bolt cutters, a monkey wrench, a kitchen knife, pliers, a stencil brush. Is it a self-portrait? A reviewer on Encarta states: “Dine’s tool drawings from the 70s are among his most subtle, characteristic and moving images.”

Dine’s body of work includes drawing, painting, sculpture, ‘happenings’, collage and assemblage.] –KD

Ask guests to think about portraits (or self portraits) for a moment. What do they think? Can a group of objects such as a number of tools stand in for the portrait of a person and still be considered a portrait?

Ask guests to consider what they would include in a self-portrait to represent themselves in a way similar to how Dine has done so in The Yellow Painting.

Sam Taylor-Wood
British artist Sam Taylor-Wood looks to Bram Stoker’s 1897 Victorian novel Dracula as inspiration for this series of self-portraits. In these photographs, Taylor-Wood presents herself in a range of poses that refer to a scene in the novel when Lucy—Dracula’s young, barely-clothed victim—is left alone on a chair as the vampire’s silhouette flees the room.

In Taylor-Wood’s images, Dracula’s silhouette is nowhere to be seen—not even his chair casts a shadow. Rather, we see a young woman who has been liberated from the constraints of Victorian society and enjoys unrestrained freedom. Her prominent shadow suggests that she has control of the situation.

[Sam Taylor-Wood was born in London in 1967. She is known as a Conceptual artist, a photographer, a singer, and a creator of multi-screen video works. White Cube, the gallery that represents her, had the following statement about these photographs, which they referred to as self-portraits: The Bram Stoker’s Chair series are “...conscious acts of self-iconoclasm in which the artist’s face (and fame) is obliterated, either by being draped with her hair or else masked by a trailing arm. These mark a departure from the trials of the emotional self towards physical trials of the body.”

“Taylor-Wood’s Bram Stoker’s Chair is so called because the chair in question, which magically supports her contortions in each photograph, casts no shadow. She has been trussed up by a bondage expert in constrictive harnesses and hung from wires attached to the ceiling for hours on end while performing her poses. The final images of seemingly effortless acrobatics were heavily doctored using computer manipulation, releasing her body from the bondage and supporting cables to float freely in midair.”] –KD

Shirin Neshat
For Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat, who now lives and works in New York City, photography is a medium that allows her to explore Islamic traditions, gender roles, and the complexities of the contemporary Muslim world. Neshat’s work is concerned with the opposition that exists between man and woman in traditional Islamic society. In her large-scale arresting portraits, she demystifies Islamic women by unveiling their faces and presenting them as self-assured, dignified individuals.

[Shirin Neshat was born in 1957 in pre-revolutionary Iran. Her parents prided themselves on being ‘Westernized’ and encouraged their daughters to go out into the world. Neshat studied in Los Angeles, at Dominican College in the San Francisco Bay Area, and received her MFA from UC Berkeley.

Neshat works as a photographer and video artist. She draws upon her conflicting feelings and nostalgia for her Iranian heritage as she explores Islam and gender roles. She is best known for her Women of Allah series—stunning, huge photographs of traditionally garbed Iranian women with flowing Persian calligraphy overlaying their faces. Her videos, often on two screens with the viewer standing between them, have won awards world-wide and caused controversy in conservative Islamic societies.]

John Baldessari
John Baldessari is a conceptual artist who has spent his career challenging the highly theoretical orientation of Conceptual art. In many ways he can be compared to Ed Ruscha—they share a low-key sense of humor—taking the seriousness out of the holy grail of Conceptualism. He is also compared to the French Dadaist Duchamp, as he uses his own art to question the nature of art itself. Duchamp believed that art should appeal to the intellect rather than the senses. His “readymades” were ordinary objects turned into art objects, e.g. The Fountain.

For Baldessari, the qualities of photographs have little was an art object but is a convenient mechanical tool. However in spite of this, he has been a great mentor and teacher in Southern California helping to emphasize a concern for content over a concern for pictorial issues.

In Perrier with Figures we see three images, a green bottle (Perrier), a larger and central image of a couple with their faces blocked out by circles, and a third image of a couple interacting with each other as in conversation. The piece begs the question. Why is this piece in a Portrait exhibit? Why are the faces blocked out? Is this a portrait or is it asking us, as the viewers, to look deeper into the meaning and the relationship between the three images. Or is it just Baldessari having a little fun at our expense? –JN

Ask guests to consider how Neshat depicts the people in her photographs. What do the photographs convey about the people she chooses to photograph?

Ask guests to consider how Neshat’s photographs might challenge conventional images of Iranian cultures prominent in western media?

Explain that Her work refers to the social, cultural and religious codes of Muslim societies and the complexity of certain dichotomies, such as man and woman. Neshat often emphasizes this theme with the technique of showing two or more coordinated films concurrently, creating stark visual contrasts through such motifs as light and dark, black and white, male and female.

Explain that Neshat tries to address the social, political and psychological dimensions of women's experience in contemporary Islamic societies. Although Neshat actively resists stereotypical representations of Islam, her artistic objectives are not explicitly polemical. Rather, her work recognizes the complex intellectual and religious forces shaping the identity of Muslim women throughout the world.

Additional Tour/Discussion Suggestions
• Explain that Close began his career shortly after graduating from the Yale University art department, an important influence on his development as an artist in the mid-1960s.

• Explain that Close’s first major work, Big Nude, 1964, was an enormous full-length portrait of a nude female model. Close was unhappy with the result, and focused his efforts on tightly cropped faces, or “heads” as he calls them himself.

Explain that Close is very interested in the tension between the order of the grid system he uses to paint his large canvases and the organic shapes of his sitters.

Explain that Close admired the work of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Franz Kline.

Explain that a ruptured artery within his spinal column led to his permanent paralysis in 1988.

Ask guests to look at the large painting called James. Ask guests to consider how they think Close painted it.

Explain that, as in many of his paintings, prints, and drawings, James is created from a photographic “maquette,” an image over which Close creates a grid that eventually helps him to transfer the image to a much larger surface.

Explain to guests the Jacquard tapestries are computer-guided textile weavings that depict images taken from digital image files based on daguerreotypes Close has made of his friends and peers.

“Painting is the most magical of mediums. The transcendence is truly amazing to me every time I go to a museum and I see how somebody figured another way to rub colored dirt on a flat surface and make space where there is no space or make you think of a life experience.”
--Chuck Close