September 18, 2009 · 6 Comments
A fabulous show of contemporary portraits, my face in your space, at Nexus, is a reminder that 1) no two faces are alike 2) no two eyes are alike 3) no two minds are alike, and 4) we all love to look at faces.
I don’t know how many works are in the exhibit in all. I do know I spent a really long time looking.
my face is a rare, successful example of a concept show in which someone asks artists to make new work on a theme. Fortunately, the theme here is incredibly broad and an evergreen–portraits. People and their faces are irresistable.
The concept also had a network theme (perfect for a gallery called Nexus) that reflects a little of the Facebook phenomenon. Nexus asked several artists to draw portraits of their friends and acquaintances under the agreement that their portraitees would reciprocate and do the same.
The most energetic of these artists who seeded the network was Austin Lee, and he practically–but not totally–ran away with the show. To put it another way, Austin created about 20 portraits, and everyone who posed then submitted a portrait of Austin. At $9.95 each, any subject could afford to snap up Austin’s portrait. Most of the other work in the show was pricier, but nearly everything was affordable.
Austin’s portraits are spectacular, reductive gems. Most of them have the super-flat, poster-y use of bright, candy-colored paints typical of his work. The small portraits, mostly framed in bright plastic junky frames, are almost caricatures–but always something more, something extreme enough to provoke, as in his portraits of Shaun Baer and of Ted Houtaling. Then in a portrait of Brian Jeitner, he adds a layer of lines that add pattern, contour, texture and surface. This one is amazing! It is not alone in its amazingness however.
Austin himself is well represented as a subject, thanks to the rules of the exhibit. What variety–in vision and materials. And yet they all capture some essence of Austin.
My favorite of these is by Nike Desis, who has been mining the insanity of popular magazine culture, especially magazines marketed to teen girls. Desis depicts Austin as the hottie subject of Tiger Beat, reducing Austin to a sex object for teen drooling while elevating him to an unreachable celebrity. The descriptions of his assets are spot-on parodies. That Austin gets the star treatment is stellar, the portrait here less about Austin and more about the absurdity of fan-fanaticism being whipped up by the culture. It’s all about consumerism and the capitalist economy!
One of the other hyper-productive contributors to the show is Joe Piconi, whose meticulous small portraits on panel reimagine people as mythic forces.
At the other extreme of art taste, there’s a monastic looking portrait by Amy Lincoln of Caetlyn Booth that seems as if it is inspired by deadpan Medieval Flemish portraiture and early American itinerant portrait painters.
Show curator and Nexus Exec. Director Nick Cassway’s fierce takes on Aram Aghazorian and of Asya Livschitz on some kind of plastic-y smooth surface reminded me of the high-contrast photos of LP and CD covers, but Cassway’s markings keep their hand-made cred as they wrestle with and overcome slick commercial-art values.
The exhibit includes a number of photos. That there weren’t more is a bit of a surprise to me, given the speed at which the contributors had to produce works. But this photo by Ted Adams of Meredith Edlow is one of the standouts among the photographic portraits, capturing a personality in a snap second.
The show has a Where’s Waldo quality, where I kept hunting for the reciprocating partner, or for the point of comparison between portraits of the same subject by different artists or portraits by the same artist of a variety of subjects. There is so much work to admire in this show, I snapped away; more photos can be found on my Flickr set.
The exhibit, which is wildly entertaining at the same time that it’s thought-provoking, runs through Oct.2.