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Facing Out, Facing In: Figurative Works from the Michener Art Museum Collection
January 15 to May 1, 2011
Facing Out, Facing In: Figurative Works from the Michener Art Museum Collection, on view January 15 to May 1, 2011 at the James A. Michener Art Museum, offers both a window on the world and a journey into the inner life of artist and subject. The human drama is among the themes explored in this participatory exhibit, where viewers are invited to reflect on the artists' intentions and even place votes into ballot boxes. (right: William S. Schwartz (1896-1977) Come to Me All Ye That Are Heavy Laden 1934, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches. James A. Michener Art Museum, Gift of the John P. Horton Estate)
Say the phrase "20th-century art," and what comes to mind? Perhaps Jackson Pollock dripping paint on a blank canvas with unconscious fervor, or Marcel Duchamp's famous "Nude Descending a Staircase," which one misguided critic referred to as "an explosion in a shingle factory." History often remembers the innovators and pioneers, and when the tale of 20th-century art is told, it usually focuses on the rebellion against "objective" art: art that "looks real."
While the abstract painters tend to get the headlines, there were many artists who quietly explored the human figure as the primary source of inspiration and expression in their work. Many of these figurative artists loved the ancient art of portraiture, which looks beneath the surface to the core of our individuality, and tries to capture that elusive quality that makes each of us unique.
Other artists were gifted storytellers who used their work to comment on both the comedy and tragedy of life, as well as celebrate the experiences that define us as a culture and a nation. Some figurative artists faced inward, toward the personal and the intimate; others faced outward, toward the grand dramas of war and politics as well as the revealing moments that often go unobserved, that sometimes say more about the experience of being alive than a battle or a parade.
Drawing on the Michener's extensive holdings of figurative art, especially in paintings and photographs, Facing Out, Facing In explores this temperamental and stylistic dichotomy in figurative art, and includes work by such well-known regional painters as Louis Bosa, Daniel Garber and B. J. O. Nordfeldt; photographers Emmet Gowin, Edmund Eckstein, David Graham, Andrea Baldeck and Susan Bank; as well as works on paper by Werner Drewes and William A. Smith. Also featured are selections from the collection of John Horton, a recent bequest to the Michener that contains important Depression-era canvases by painters William S. Schwartz, Ben Shahn, Julius Bloch and Guy Pène duBois.
An Innovative Approach
Interior/exterior; outgoing/shy; introvert/extrovert; live wire/shrinking violet: The long list of words describing it proves that this "inner/outer" phenomenon is not just psychological smoke and mirrors. There are people whose antennae are turned toward their own interior life, and there are people whose embedded microwave receivers are "tuned in" to the data stream of the world. While the real world is messy, and artists rarely fit precisely into one category or another, nevertheless there are patterns and propensities inherent in how creative people think. This exhibition reveals one of those patterns: how artists "place" themselves on the continuum between facing in and facing out.
The exhibit experiments with a playful approach. Call it "we the people" meets the psychiatrist's couch. Fair warning -- when visitors walk through the gallery entrance, they are entering a world where art and the voting booth collide.
Be prepared to think about such questions as: Are you a navel-gazer or the life of the party? Do you enjoy quiet, intimate conversations with one or two people or animated gatherings with friends? Are you more interested in the inward journey of self-discovery or making a difference in the world through political activism? Then, turn the tables and tell us what matters about some pictures in the Michener's collection, instead of simply reading about what curators want you to think and feel.
Checklist from the exhibition
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and biographical information on artists cited in this article in America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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