Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Human Touch

"L. A. Portrait" by Roland Fischer at
The Memorial Art Gallery show
"The Human Touch"

Roland Fischer's "L.A. Portrait" stares you down as you walk towards "The Human Touch" - now open at The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York.  Yes, the subject is beautiful, but the cold stare means we are in for some soul searching.  The RBC Wealth Management Art Collection seems to have as their mission an open mind as far as the acquisition of contemporary figurative art, and in this show we have photos, paintings, and prints of reasonably high quality.  I guess we are going to see more and more commercial sponsors for new shows, and their out front approach to building their brand with names we can trust, now with many new players in the fine art game.

When I was an art student in the 1970's, I worked figuratively, but then you couldn't find a corporate sponsor for a show like this, unless you were in Europe.  Figurative art just wasn't a hot commodity.

Only a few artists managed to sustain their commitment to the figure   ( Chuck Close who is in this show was one that comes to my mind, but where is Philip Pearlstein, or Alice Neel? ).  A little distance into the show I noticed the artwork by one of my friends from my student days,  John Ahern.  He is represented here by a work called " Two Girls". John makes plaster casts from life and then paints them in a realistic manner.  Maybe this would have been a more friendly image to have at the entrance to this show.

Hung Liu " Baby King" 
oil on canvas

So tastes change, and we are back to study and think about our relationship to portraits, and images of people from around the world.  What I like about this show is that there are far more cultures represented here ( than we are used to seeing in art galleries ), so there is bound to be an element of surprise when you find really interesting new faces.

Dawoud Bey
Large format Polaroid photo studies, 1993

One of my favorite works in the show is from Radcliffe Bailey titled "Osun".  It is a painting with a photograph in the center of the composition surrounded by the form of a house decorated in stencils, and other patterns in paint.  I like the seriousness of the photo contrasted against the urge towards graffiti in this art.

Kehinde Wiley has been in the news recently because of his show at The Brooklyn Museum, and here he is represented with a work called "Passing, Posing".  Art by African Americans is well represented in this show, but we can always use more and we can learn from the experience.  If you get up close to see this portrait of a man in an orange sweater, you can see that it is painted over a heavily embossed wall fabric.  The juxtaposition of pattern and person is a calling card for Mr. Kehinde Wiley.  There is an unspoken challenge to our expectations when we see this artwork which takes on European conventions of portraiture and re-asserts itself.

Lalla Essaydi
Les Femmes du Maroc

I was really taken by a photo on aluminum by the artist Lalla Essaydi from Morocco.  This gorgeous image shows a woman wrapped in a patterned cloth and the background is a match and suddenly you have visual poetry.

Kelli Connell also has that poetic moment.  Are the two people in a pool or are they floating away in the sky?  This momentary dislocation creates a photo fiction and we can be swept up in a work of art.

Kelli Connell, "Floating", 2005

The pair of paintings by Michael Vasquez called "The New Red Carpet" was also fun to look over.  This work in acrylic is made up of vibrant washes and spots of color and has an illustrative effect.  Kerry James Marshall is represented here by an acrylic painting titled: "Blind Ambition" replete with a ladder to success.  A challenging work from Lezley Saar called " Between a Mulatto and a Quadroon" challenges notions of class and color.

In fact this show opens the way for many kinds of dialogues about the human condition and where we find ourselves on a continuum going deeper into the 21st Century.  We know one thing for certain, we are not going to leave the 21st Century the way we came in!