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Albright-Knox exhibits their wide collection of portraiture


Consider the portrait is the basic idea behind the Albright-Knox exhibit called Eye to Eye: Looking beyond Likeness. Consider how portraits delve more than skin deep—or skin and bones—to psychology, sociology. And in the modern era, via abstractive art strategies, can skip skin and bones altogether.

The range of works on show is from painting and photography straightforward traditional portraits, to Pop alternative straightforward (Andy Warhol’s five precisely similar portraits of Seymour H. Knox in dissimilar pastel hues), to comic multiple portraits (Biff Henrich’s backyard pool panorama of a dozen or so family members in the water and on the sidelines, soaking up sun and junk food), to works one could fail to recognize as portraits without that word in the title (Alfred Jensen’s impasto semaphore of squares and diamonds, called Family Portrait), to works that don’t even say it in the title (Eric and Heather ChanSchatz’ cross between Rorschach pattern and kaleidoscope image art).

The most poignant work in the show is the most weird. Gillian Wearing’s video interviews of subjects in disguise telling crucial stories of their lives that they can only tell from behind a mask, due to shame, or because it would be imprudent to do otherwise. One man talks about how at a young age he suffered bullying, then later commenced bullying others, and how he benefited emotionally from it—the active bullying—and failed to benefit, that is, how it was not emotionally fulfilling for him (though he continued the practice). How as part of this pathology he once beat up a man on the street—a total stranger, and for no discernible reason—and killed him. “It’s not something I’m proud of, not something I’m happy about,” he says. Eventually, he was apprehended for this crime and served a lengthy prison term. Now he is out of prison, and employed, but only, he says, because he lied on the application form and got away with it. If his employer or fellow workers knew his secret, he says, he would be unemployed, and then how would he live? He doesn’t have friends, he says, because he could never tell the truth about himself, his situation. He is compelled to lie. After work, he says, he goes home and sits alone in a darkened room. “I’m like some twisted, deformed creature,” he says. “Some twisted animal. That’s how I see myself.”

Highlight traditional works include American Colonial and Revolutionary times artist John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Mrs. Ebenezer Amber, with manikin hands but credible facial individuality, and French classicist supreme Jacques Louis David’s portrait of architect Jacques François Desmaisons in pre-French Revolution scarlet finery.

Highlight non-traditional works include Robert Rauschenberg’s triptych self-portrait with references to cynosure Renaissance man and artist Leonardo da Vinci. In one section, artist Rauschenberg speeding along on roller skates, trailing a huge umbrella-like item vaguely reminiscent of Leonardo’s bat-wing flight device design. Elsewhere a part x-ray skeleton version of Leonardo’s iconic circle squared figure. The triptych is called Autobiography.

Also, Andy Goldberg’s wonderful video in which he lies down on the pavement below the large stone staircase leading up to the Albright-Knox Greek temple pillars and porch as a rainstorm threatens. The rains come, gently at first, then more heavily. He gets soaked but continues to lie there in the rain, until he gets up and leaves, leaving his negative (dry) image on the wet pavement, which gradually fades as the rains continue, then disappears. Meanwhile, a woman runs up the steps to take shelter and stand and sit vigil on the porch, amid the pillars. Like a mourner left behind.

Different rooms have different themes. A deception portraits room, including two photos by shapeshifter self-portraitist Cindy Sherman—once as Columbine, once as a middle-aged woman all dolled up for an evening out—and a photo by Alice O’Malley of an apparent transvestite, from her series “Community of Elsewheres.”

A distortion portraits room includes cubist works by Picasso and Roger de La Fresnaye, some John Coplans finger self-portraits, a huge pixilated portrait by Chuck Close, and Evan Penney’s stretch-elongated sculpture in silicone and hair and other media. A little like the marble (and lead and stainless steel) stretched and squeezed statue just outside the north gallery window by artist Jaume Plensa.

A multiple portraits room includes—in addition to the Biff Henrich—George Wesley Bellows’ superb youth and age painting called Elinor, Jean and Anna, and across the room the equally compelling three-subject painting by Charles Webster Hawthorne, called The Family. Next to that, a three-subject painting by Harrington Mann of the Knox children in the year 1909. Including Seymour, age about ten, who shows up in the next room in the Warhol work as an old man, or getting there.

The portraits exhibit continues through May 17th, 2015.

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