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6/18/2009

The Arts

Summer studies
New art shows that'll be hanging around all... you know

 

Andy Warhol: Personalities
Through Jan. 3 at Cornell Fine Arts Museum
1000 Holt Ave., Rollins College,
Winter Park
407-646-2526; free-$5
www.rollins.edu/cfam

This small exhibition of what are essentially figure studies for Andy Warhol’s register-ringing assembly line of society portraits is slight, but nevertheless valuable as a window into the fastidious methods of a man who (disingenuously) presented his work as a casual toss-off. The flat, cartoony silkscreens Warhol’s Factory churned out in the ’80s were a jokey cash cow for the most part, capitalizing on the artistic cred he banked in the 1960s and early ’70s and heightening Warhol’s WYSIWYG taunt to bourgeois art collectors: Those silkscreens now cost as much as an Vermeer oil at auction, regardless of their
ephemeral beginnings.

Installed in the small side gallery at Rollins’ Cornell Fine Arts Museum are framed and matted snapshots (Polacolor ER peel-aparts, not the iconic white-bordered square, somewhat to the perplexity of other visitors the day I saw the show) of roughly a dozen faces, figure studies for notional portraits. Some were clearly commissions undertaken for the cash value – plump society ladies and cigar-chomping magnates. Others capture pop culture figures like Ric Ocasek of the Cars or shyly grinning hockey player Wayne Gretzsky, or fabulous nightbirds of the moment like Tina Chow, in all her androgynous glory, and beautiful duty-free heiress Pia Miller (pictured below), who worked for Warhol at age 16.

All, however, bear a superficial mundane sameness. The women are bare-shouldered and powdered down like geishas, draped at midchest with what is recognizably the same piece of checked cloth. Their opaque makeup (red lips, black eyeliner, white powder) and the blown-out lighting, along with the bleached tones characteristic of Polaroid film, create the high contrast necessary to cut a successful silkscreen. The images are clearly process-oriented, not meant to be displayed on their own – edges where the powder stops are visible, clothespins or clips holding up the draping can be seen, some eyes and mouths are unflatteringly half-closed. Some of the sitters are shown in multiple, like glamorous Marta de Henriquez; Warhol would shoot dozens of frames, and the groups of three or four successive images open up the personalities of his subjects in a way the finished portraits sometimes did not.

Work sketches made by old masters when planning a painting are now valued not simply for the insight into the greater works they presaged, but as worthy and detailed drawings in their own right. In Warhol’s modern version of the atelier system, instantaneous Polaroids stood in for charcoals, squeegee and polymer paint for palette knife and linseed oil; but shortcuts notwithstanding, Warhol’s process aped the traditional atelier, right down to the use of apprentices (junkies in a dirty Union Square loft though they may have been) and the pursuit of commissions from wealthy patrons to offset the costs of more artistically rigorous forays. Like the old Dolly Parton line, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” it took a lot of work to create Warhol’s reductive, almost primitive images, and this show exposes some of the living depths behind those impenetrably glossy surfaces.

(Admission to the Cornell is free Tuesday through Friday in June; Andy Warhol: Personalities will be on view after hours at “Warhol Wednesdays,” a party featuring a different DJ and a cocktail named for a different Warhol Superstar each week; 7-10 p.m. Wednesday through July 8; $10)

Jessica Bryce Young



Portrait of a Lady

Through Aug. 30 at Cornell
Fine Arts Museum
1000 Holt Ave., Rollins College,
Winter Park
407-646-2526; free-$5
www.rollins.edu/cfam

Portrait of a Lady, an exhibition of depictions of women painted in the 17th through 20th centuries, has made its home at Cornell Fine Arts Museum through summer. This is an exhibition pulled from the permanent collection and features portrait artists such as John White Alexander (1856-1915) and Louis-Michel Van Loo (1707-1771).

Stepping into the serene, powder-blue gallery allows you to gaze into a timeless world that at times feels stately and ephemeral, and at others, alluring and remote. The women are real, not imagined, which makes for an interesting study of humankind; there is no trying to project a narrative or psychology through the allegorical figures. What you see in their faces, their hands and their poses comes through, so a glimpse of mood, emotion or inner self is exciting when it
is revealed.

The portraits of older women have great emotional impact, for their beautiful, care-lined faces and deep, wise eyes connect immediately to today, even if the portrait is a century or more old. One piece actually titled “Portrait of a Lady,” by an unknown painter and dated circa 1895, shows a woman in a classical Greek pose, her head turned up and away from the viewer to accentuate a long neck to give the impression of vanity and a desire to hold on to lost youth. Another piece, titled “Portrait of a Woman,” by another unknown painter from the mid-19th century, possibly shows the grandmother of Prestonia Mann Martin. It seems to tell a story of children, grandchildren and a life of difficulty, all in the care of her face. These portraits evoke empathy, compassion, respect and other emotional responses in
the viewer.

In contrast, the portraits of lovely young women convey a universal appreciation for youth and can be enjoyed for their surface beauty. Their faces seem blank, as if waiting for life to etch its story upon them. As the curator points out, most of the painters were men. In these depictions, there is a bit of suppressed sexuality that comes out in many of the young women. Flirty faces, red roses open and held delicately, nymph-like dances and faces turned upward toward the light all abound. And “Portrait of a Girl With Parrot,” by an unknown American painter around 1750, shows a girl sitting, serious as a math test, while a nasty gray parrot cranes his neck straight out to snatch a grape from her hand held over her pelvic region. And to think, this amusing little drama was painted well before Freud invented the concept of the phallic symbol.

Famous women – like Annie Russell – also show up here. What makes this collection so appealing is its use of real people and the talent of the artists to bring them to life, which convey both the surface and the inner essence of the women. Portrait of a Lady requires an open, contemplative mind, which will be rewarded by a sense of connection across time with the women depicted here.

Rex Thomas

Departures IV
Through Sept. 12 at Southeast Museum of Photography
1200 W. International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach
(museum closed Aug. 1-13)
386-506-4475; free
smponline.org

If the works in Departures IV are any indication, the future of photography is in good hands. Dozens of images by recent graduates of Daytona State College and the University of Central Florida offer striking views of their worlds and worldviews. There are the usual student studies in the group show – self-portraits that range from self-absorbed to gripping roadkill horrors and collage-like blends of unlikely objects. But in the engaging Departures IV, they merely add context to the survey of young artists’ work and offer insights that are more than interesting. The future of photography, as summarized here, is in very good hands.

The 150 images in Heidi Mitchell’s contact-sheet-style studies add up to an overview of contemporary pop culture that is both alarming and amusing. Each character in “Men,” framed by a barely visible television set, is easily recognizable as a romantic leading man, a current matinee idol. Shown singly or in a small group, each would be a fuzzy portrait; Mitchell’s densely populated vertical presents the men as an overwhelming
iconic clump.

Just as impressively conceived is Jennifer Surgent’s “Night Window” series of six digital prints, all subtly paying homage to Edward Hopper’s 1942 study of alienation, “Nighthawks.” No figures populate her nightclub scene “Night Window: Jessica,” however; here, the emphasis is on the club’s eerie, looming luminosity. And in the almost surreal “Night Window: Tutto,” a restaurant waits, as vacant and voracious as Vincent van Gogh’s “The Night Café.”

Jeanelle Pagano’s images go all the way into Surrealism, with a chalky-faced child on a country road, surrounded by charred tree trunks and haze. At the end of the road, barely visible but all-important, is an approaching car. Nothing adds up, but anything is possible in Pagano’s elegant assemblage. By contrast, the crisply cropped doorways in Adam Fratus’ “Architectural Series” evoke only a sense of their formal elements: line, form, tone and most of all, texture.

There are pieces that seem inspired by class assignments; among them is Luke Earls’ excellent study of a young woman and an older macho man in artfully torn jeans. They savor their hot dogs and eye each other while an arm, in the foreground, is shown spraying lighter fluid onto a flaring charcoal grill. The message is clear and very entertainingly so: Sizzle! Sex sells!

Laura Stewart

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