Whether it’s with a giant collage of black-and-white images of Brattleboro natives or a room filled with 25 proofs of one finished piece, the latest Brattleboro Museum and Art Center show shows there are many ways to portray a likeness.
“As Others See Us: The Contemporary Portrait” runs through Feb. 22. It’s a series of works in several media by more than 80 contemporary artists that fills the museum’s six gallery spaces. Some works are on loan from metropolitan galleries or by the artists; the rest were contributed by Brattleboro area artists.
Museum director Danny Lichtenfeld said this is the first time in the museum’s 30-plus year history in which the entire building is dedicated to one exhibit.
“It’s just such a rich vein,” he said of portraiture. “It’s a strong way to fill the space.”
The portraits on display are presented in traditional and non-traditional ways, using more types of media than imaginable. But each one presents the same questions to the viewer: Who is this person and what is his or her story?
You don’t have to enter the museum to enjoy some of them — in fact, you can check them out while driving by.
Photographer Christopher Irion’s 215 photographs are stretched across three 75-foot-long, 8-foot-high panels on the museum’s front exterior.
Irion, who now lives in San Francisco but who used to live in the Brattleboro area, started the PhotoBooth Portrait Project in 2004.
He traveled to 26 communities around the country and was in Brattleboro last summer. He set up his portable photo booth in two heavily-trafficked areas downtown and invited people to come in and have their picture taken. The result is 16-by-24 photographs on weatherproof material that collectively show the face of Brattleboro.
There are people of each gender, age, race — some holding their lunch, some holding their children and others holding their pets. Each installation is site-specific to its location, and they are all free public art.
“It’s a way to raise questions about community,” Lichtenfeld said of Irion’s exhibit.
Irion’s unique work is one of four solo exhibits in the show. Inside one gallery space is a 25-piece series by painter and printmaker Chuck Close, who has been doing self-portraits since the late ’60s and has exhibited work at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Whitney Museum of American Art. Close uses photographs of himself to create paintings, drawings, prints and other media.
Lichtenfeld said the piece titled “Self-Portrait/Scribble/Etching Portfolio,” takes the idea of a portrait existing to reveal a person’s soul and tosses it out the window.
Instead, Close’s identity is revealed in his process.
The portfolio consists of 12 etching plate proofs, one in each of the 12 colors he used to create his final print.
An etching involves a metal plate onto which an image is drawn that is then submerged in an acid bath.
The acid etches the metal surface exposed by the drawing. The etched plate is then inked and printed, first producing a proof to check the plate quality. Also in the portfolio are 12 progressive proofs, which are prints showing the progression of the image as he added each color, and the final print — the accumulation of all the colors.
Another piece of Close’s, titled “James,” on display in the main gallery, shows his methodical nature as an artist again — it’s a silkscreen he made with 178 colors. What’s even more remarkable is that Close has been paralyzed since 1988 and paints with a brush strapped to his hand.
In another room is “Injured Soldiers & Marines: Portraits by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders,” a series of 17 photographs the artist took of Iraq War veterans. A portrait photographer who has made a living taking pictures of celebrities, politicians, famous artists and cultural icons, Greenfield-Sanders took these photos in connection with the 2007 HBO film “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq.” The images are shocking — showing scars, burns and missing limbs that are all a result of military service — but they also show a silent pride and courage in the subjects.
Boston-based painter Dana Clancy’s installation, “Network,” brings the portrait medium into the 21st century.
Completed this year, it uses graphite, colored pencil and acrylic on panel and is a series of portraits in hexagonal and diamond-shaped panels mounted on the museum walls. The network that is the inspiration for its title is Clancy’s network of friends on Facebook, a social networking Web site. Each portrait represents a friend she connected with.
Another small segment of the exhibit in addition to Clancy’s installation is dedicated to portraits using modern media, such as computer software, photocopiers, digital cameras and video recorders. It’s meant to ask questions about the nature of portraiture, whether it’s still a portrait if you can delete the image and take another more flattering one or whether or not an artist will depict a subject more freely if an image can more easily be replaced.
A portrait doesn’t need to be created using a computer scanner to be non-traditional. Cayce Zavaglia’s “Dad,” for example, looks like a photograph from a distance. But if you get closer to it, you read that it’s made with embroidery and wool thread.
Iran native Shirana Shabazi also uses textiles — her self-portrait was created from a photograph she sent to a master textile artist in her home country who sewed the image into a piece of carpet.
Others stretch the boundaries of portraiture further by not depicting a face. James Rieck’s “Something Special,” a gigantic oil painting that is the focal point of one wall in the main gallery, depicts the body of a girl holding out the sides of the blue flowered party dress she’s wearing. The only thing is, we can’t see her from the neck up.
Some portraits are sculptural, like Nina Levy’s eye-catching “Spectator,” a piece so unusual it draws you toward it through the front door of the museum. Created in 2005, it’s a life-sized self-portrait meant to show the artist’s discomfort in presenting herself, mostly as an artist in the art world. On top of her tiny body she gave herself a giant head, meant to suggest an oversized mask she wears because of her discomfort. That point is further emphasized by the skin-baring and skin-hugging dress she’s wearing, suggesting a feeling of over-exposure.
Sarah Wentworth shows she’s comfortable in other people’s skin in her piece “Passport Pictures,” a series of digital photos of herself in several disguises. She presents her identity playing people of different genders, races and ages other than her own.
Lucy Fradkin presents herself by depicting those closest to her. “Kingston, Jamaica 1968” is a portrait she created from an old family photograph.
Some portraits are scientific, like “Head” by Jill Magid. A three-dimensional reconstructed bust of herself, it was created with silicone using cat scans of her skull, casts of her teeth and samples of her hair. Displayed alongside the bust is a “forensic report.”
Whether artists use paint, silicone or a video camera to create them, portraits are a product of the human condition. A Henry David Thoreau quote on the entrance wall of the exhibit sums that condition up perfectly:
“Could a greater miracle ever take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes even for an instant?”
“As Others See Us: The Contemporary Portrait” runs through Feb. 22 at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, 10 Vernon St., Brattleboro. For more information, call 802-257-0124 or visit www.brattleboromuseum.org.
Text and Images by SentinelSource.com