Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Photo by Charles Phillips, 1995

Washington, DC




Chuck Close


Self Portrait, 1997, oil on canvas, 102 x 84 inches, private collection, New York, photo by Ellen Page Wilson

"Chuck Close," a 30-year retrospective featuring this American artist's labor-intensive, often arresting images of the human face, will open on Oct. 15, 1998 at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue at Seventh Street SW.

The show, which comes to Washington after successful presentations in New York and Chicago, continues at the Hirshhorn through Jan. 10, 1999 before finishing its national tour in Seattle. Numerous public programs are planned, including a talk by the artist at 7 p.m. on opening day.

Some 85 monumental paintings, many as tall as 8 feet, and smaller works on paper by Close (b. 1940) will be on view at the Hirshhorn. They reveal his work's evolution from black-and-white, wall-size images airbrushed onto canvas from mug-shotlike photographs--linking him with Photo-Realism in the early 1970s--to recent, boldly colored heads materializing out of abstract grids of expressively painted rectangles, lozenges, ovals and figure eights.

Likenesses made by Close using his own fingerprints and three-dimensional wads of pulp paper also are on view, along with works employing transparent layers of magenta, blue and yellow--the same colors that make up color photographs.

"A painting duplicates the gaze [between people]," says Close, who depicts himself, friends, family members and fellow artists using mostly a grid process to enlarge photographs he himself has taken. "I'm as interested in the distribution of marks on a flat surface... [as in] the thing that ultimately gets depicted," he says, the way "the sheer joy of marks...shifts into an image. You're looking at it, it's looking at you."

Right: Lucas, 1987, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches, collection of Jon and Mary Shirley

Born and reared in Washington state, Close went on to study painting at Yale University and as a Fulbright fellow in Vienna during the 1960s. Mastering and then abandoning Willem de Kooning-style gestural abstractions, he pursued the simple but severe working methods of his Minimalist contemporaries upon settling in New York in 1967. He began an ongoing fascination with the human face as a springboard for technical and expressive innovation. Since 1988, Close has been working from a wheelchair with a paintbrush strapped to his arm, having adapted to partial paralysis resulting from a collapsed spinal artery.

Left: Linda, 1976-78, acrylic and pencil on canvas, 108 x 84 inches, Akron Museum, purchased with funds from an anonymous contribution, an anonymous contribution in honor of Ruth C. Roush, and the museum acquisition fund.

"Framed" by self-portraits of 1967 and 1997, the exhibition features the faces of numerous arts figures. "Nancy," 1968, and "Phil," 1969, for instance, depict the late sculptor Nancy Graves and composer Philip Glass, vastly enlarged from original photo-maquettes, as hyperrealistic, minimalistic, monochromatic "landscapes" of pores, hairs, wrinkles, glistening teeth and pooling tear ducts. Photographer/sculptor Lucas Samaras' face as depicted in a canvas of 1987 resembles a Byzantine mosaic, and painters Paul Cadmus, April Gornik and Roy Lichtenstein appear in recent canvases--the latter a 1994 image in profile owned by the Hirshhorn--at once abstract and recognizable within bright, honeycomb grids.

Roy II, 1994, oil on canvas, 102 x 84 inches, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Collections, Acquisition program and Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 1995

The exhibition, accompanied by a 224-page, richly illustrated catalog available at the Hirshhorn Museum Shop, was organized and first presented this past winter by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it was made possible by Michael and Judy Ovitz. A generous grant was provided by Banana Republic, with additional support from Jon and Mary Shirley. The Washington presentation is supported in part by the Holenia Exhibition Fund, in memory of Joseph H. Hirshhorn (1899-1981). The show travels next to the Seattle Art Museum (Feb. 18 - May 9, 1999).


Read more about the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 7/23/10

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