Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Faces in a Museum

By Gary Berg-Cross

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is one of DC’s gems- architecturally and by content.  Every few years they feature the results of the 7 panel judged Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. This year they feature 48 “faces” that stare back at you as you voyeur through. If you come in from the NPG side you are eyed by Jill Wissmiller’s 2011 ‘video portrait’ “The Gilding of Lily."  It's a long way from the small portraits of the Dutch school but continues the Renaissance spirit of moving from religious portraits that narrate the world through faith to very human ones.  This continues shift towards a broader intellectual & scientific understanding of humanity and uses modern technology like video to express its ideas. The section from The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (Ed. Tom Flynn) uses Passmore's 3 categories for art - entertainment, telic and 'serious' art (Guernica as an example). all types are hear and perhaps mixes of all 3 with many bringing the excitement & perhaps whimsey of the first type along with the iconic impact of a cause for the 2nd.

 I’m not sure I agreed with the judges on the best, but then that’s part of the charm.  You can walk through the rooms and be your own judge.  You may stroll by an iconic women’s figure made from  100 pounds of rice. I wonder what artists of the early Renaissance would say as they strove to portray lifelike human forms with correct proportions.  Much of that is here, but in forms that astound and challenge new thinking  for idea of humanism.

Life raft was another favorite of mine with a human, telic back story. It was painted  by Katie O’Hagan in 2011, and she explains it's theme and purpose:

during a time of great personal upheaval. During this period, I came to truly understand, for the first time, the vital role that art plays in my life. As most of the solid ground I had depended on seemed to erode away, my art emerged as the only thing keeping my head above water. I woke up one morning with this image in my head. I built the raft myself and spent the next couple of months completing the painting. It’s a very literal image, and I felt quite exposed and not entirely comfortable making it at first. Now I see it as something positive to come out of a bad situation. It also marked a turning point in my work, as it has led to a move toward more personal paintings, beyond the straightforward portraiture I was doing before.

You’ll find all 48 finalists on the NPG site with descriptions from the creators. It’s a feast for humanist sentiments. Check out a slideshow with all the winners here.

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