July 26, 2003

Touching Faces

One of the most moving contemporary portraits, Chuck Close's portrait of his mother-in-law, Fanny/Fingerpainting, reveals a sublime blend of technique and feeling. One which, viewed from a distance or up close, unifies his technique with his feeling -- makes that which is merely clever subordinate to that which is deeply felt.

The notes at the National Gallery of Art tell a slightly different story:

Seen from a distance, the painting looks like a giant, silver-toned photograph that unrelentingly reveals every crack and crevice of the sitter's face. Closer up, the paint surface dissolves into a sea of fingerprints that have an abstract beauty, even as they metaphorically suggest the withering of the sitter's skin with age. The fingerpaintings provide a far more literal record of the artist's touch than most abstract expressionist brushwork -- but are at the same time dictated by an abstract, distinctly impersonal system.
As usual in the manner of 'curator's notes' in contemporary exhibitions, these comments seek to involve us in the same "abstract, impersonal system" that the curator has bought into in order to achieve and extend his or her position. The notes only real role is to distance our reaction to the image that the artist has created. They say little about the emotions of the viewer and less about those of the creator.

Does anyone imagine that Chuck Close thought "I'll use fingerprints to construct Fanny's face and thereby make a broad statement about touch versus an abstract system?" Close is a clever and distinguished artist, but he works in the world of emotions. If he did not, his work would not reach from the image into the heart of the viewer.

It is a source of constant wonder to me that when so many of our better contemporary painters can be pushing deeper and deeper into the wordless realm of the human heart, our professional art establishment is fleeing from it. I'll put it down to the behavior of the "herd of independent minds."

Posted by Vanderleun at July 26, 2003 10:21 AM
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