The Eyes

The Eyes

Monday, May 12, 2014

Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction

Frank O'Hara | 1959-60
Alex Katz
Oil on Wood Cutout
Courtesy Robert Miller Gallery
Now at the National Portrait Gallery, Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction features mid-20th century artists who were reinventing portraiture at a moment when most agreed that figuration was dead as a progressive art form. And yet, with startling freshness and a touch of defiance, a group of young artists demonstrated the value of exploring the face and figure.

I was thrilled to see some of the Gallery's permanent holdings of portraits alongside many stunning and important works on loan for this exhibition. It was a treat to see the depiction of poet and Museum of Modern Art curator Frank O'Hara painted by Jane Freilicher and the cutout by Alex Katz, that up until now, I had only seen images in books.

Not only did they paint each other and their friends, but two stunning works in the Gallery's permanent collection in this exhibition include portraits of the art critics who helped define the Abstract Expressionist movement, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg.

With more than 50 paintings, drawings, prints, and sculpture from approximately 1945 to 1975, Face Value highlights the innovations of American portraiture hiding behind the vogue for abstraction. Artists such as Alice Neel, Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Beauford Delaney, Romare Bearden, Fairfield Porter, Jamie Wyeth, and Andy Warhol, along with lesser-known artists, pushed the boundaries of portrait traditions. Inspired by the theories and ambitions of the Abstract Expressionists and keenly attuned to the themes of their own turbulent times, they reinterpreted human portrayal, reinventing portraiture for the next generation.

Harold Rosenberg | 1956
Elaine de Kooning
Oil on Canvas | 80 in. x 51 in.
Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

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