My friend Margo and I went to the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, about a week ago. We wanted to see their current exhibit: About Face: Portraiture as Subject . I believe they were trying to show just how many ways artists can interpret the idea of creating a portrait of an individual.
If that was indeed their goal, then I suppose they succeeded. I was a bit disappointed in the collection since it felt to me as if they just threw together as many different types of art as they could without going in depth into much of anything. Or as Margo put it, “Who hangs a Warhol next to a Sargent?” To the right of the Andy Warhol work of actress Farrah Fawcett, there was a bronze sculpture of Farrah created by Austin’s own famous sculptor Charles Umlauf. Both artworks were a gift to the museum from the estate of the former UT student, Farrah Fawcett.
The John Singer Sargent portrait is “Madame Belleroche” 1884.
Here is the Blanton’s write-up of their name-dropping exhibition:
Recently featured in the Wall Street Journal, About Face presents 35 portraits in diverse mediums from antiquity to today. Drawn mostly from The Blanton’s notable collection, along with several choice loaned objects, the exhibition includes works by artists known for their probing investigations of the genre, such as Albrecht Dűrer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, John Singer Sargent, Diego Rivera, Sir Jacob Epstein, Antonio Berni, Alice Neel, Chuck Close, Robert Henri, Andy Warhol, Yasumasa Morimura, Charles Umlauf, Oscar Muñoz, and Kehinde Wiley.
Visit our multimedia page with videos and audio clips about the exhibition.
There are quite a few really strong works in this collection; however, I found myself bored for some reason. Besides the Warhol, maybe it was the riveting collection of small wooden panels, each sporting a different solid tone of someone’s averaged flesh color. I am not sure if the point was to show how little difference there really is between people or if it was to show off how individual even seemingly similar skin colors could be. Ok, so it was one idea presented. But flesh patches on a wall hardly strikes me as portrait material. But then, I would like to believe that we are all just a little more complicated than this idea wanted to tackle. (My apologies for not recording the name of the artist or the artwork.)
I did enjoy the sculpture “Patrick” by Oliver Herring that is composed of a mosaic of photos of a figure in a crunched over sitting pose. The pose was intriguing and the technique probably new when it was first released. The life-sized figure was enclosed in an acrylic box. I hate it when the protection detracts so much from the art.
I really just had the impression that the Blanton was rearranging its collection to expose more of it in a new way to museum visitors. Who could blame them for that? Even gallery owners know that if they re-hang their art in different ways, the same visitor will invariably remark, “Oh, I never noticed this one before!” even when that work had been in the front window during that visitor’s last visit.
Anyway, I could have just been in a grumpy or impatient mood while I was there, so do not take my opinion for more than it is worth. Try to see the exhibit for yourself and make your own decisions. It is going on now through September 4, 2011.
I leave you with a detail shot of Austin-based contemporary artist Graydon Parrish’s oil painting on wood “Arrangement in Subtle Tones: Elsie, 2009”