A Couple of Ways of Doing Something
Austin Museum of Art
Through November 8, 2009
Chuck Close (born 1940) is an internationally renowned American painter, printmaker, and photographer who has radically changed the definition of modern portraiture. In the 1960s, Close was among the earliest artists to use photography as the foundation of his painting, and one of the most influential. A Couple of Ways of Doing Something focuses on explorations since 2001, presenting a stunning collection of portraits in dramatically different formats and scales. Subjects include his influential circle of artist colleagues who have made regular appearances in his paintings over the years—Laurie Anderson, Cecily Brown, Gregory Crewdson, Ellen Gallagher, Philip Glass, Elizabeth Peyton, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, and Kiki Smith, to name a few, as well as Chuck Close himself. The exhibition features 15 daguerreotypes, which Close used as the base to create the other works in the show—20 digital pigment prints, 7 tapestries, and 2 photogravures. Lyrical praise poems by New York School poet Bob Holman accompany many of the portraits. Holman, a celebrated and widely published New York School poet, originated and hosted the famous Poetry Slams at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (1988–96) and now runs the Bowery Poetry Club. Collectively, A Couple of Ways of Doing Something is a challenging exploration of photographic techniques and processes that transcends any one medium.
AMOA Executive Director Dana Friis-Hansen commented, “AMOA first presented Chuck Close’s work in a solo show at Laguna Gloria in the early 1970s, and we’re proud to highlight his important recent work which combines emotional intensity, technical innovation, and visual beauty. After visiting this exhibition, Austinites will come to appreciate the inventive, collaborative spirit of this artist as he pushes the limits of photography through creative adventures alongside a writer, printmakers, and technicians across the globe.”
The exhibition features 15 daguerreotypes, measuring 10 x 8 inches. Invented in 1839, the daguerreotype is among the oldest photographic processes and is renowned for the detail and depth of its rendering. It captures a direct positive image on a metal plate, usually copper coated with silver. Because of the way it refracts light, it must be viewed at the proper angle in order for the image to be visible; Oliver Wendell Holmes, an early writer on photography, called it “a mirror with a memory.” Close explained, “The thing I love about daguerreotypes is that
everything I love in photography was already there in the beginning—1840. The incredible detail. The incredible range, from the brightest highlight of white, sometimes solarized, almost bluish in color, to the deepest, deepest darkest, most velvety blacks. I love the fact that, as opposed to so many photographs that are painting-sized, which thirty people can stand in front of, each daguerreotype requires the active participation of one viewer. It’s intimate, one-on-one personal.” Over the course of two years, Close worked with daguerreotype master Jerry
Spagnoli to conquer the complexities of this process, which yields images of astonishing detail and gravity. As individual portraits, each image offers an intimate and revealing study of the subject, extending the hyperrealist tradition of portraiture for which Close is renowned.
The exhibition features seven 8-by-6-foot digital Jacquard portrait tapestries based on the daguerreotypes. Close first became interested in tapestries as a medium for portraiture when the artist Sol LeWitt brought back contemporary examples from China in the 1970s. Intrigued by how the individual strands could be woven together to comprise an image, Close began working with Chinese tapestry manufacturers in the 1990s. The advent of the digital Jacquard loom opened the possibility of more precise translation of images into threads, and in 2006, Close began a collaboration with Magnolia Editions of Oakland, California, and their weavers in Belgium. A digital scan of the original is rendered into a computer program for the warp and weft threads, which the loom then processes into a tapestry. Each black-and-white tapestry is actually composed of up to 17,800 colored warp threads.
The exhibition features 20 digital pigment prints paired with poetry. Daguerreotypes, which are one-of-a-kind images, were scanned directly on a flatbed scanner. The high-resolution digital copy with great tonal fidelity could be enlarged to many times the size of the original daguerreotype and outputted in ink without significant loss of visual information. The exhibition’s 26 1/2-by-20-inch inkjet pigment prints, made on an Epson 9600 printer, have a tactile richness daguerreotypes cannot achieve and a precision that eludes most photographic reproductions. They represent a marriage between the nineteenth-century technology of capturing light and the twenty-first-century technology of mechanical reproduction. Holman’s accompanying poems are concise, witty, and beautifully typeset to reflect the personality and style of each person portrayed. The free cell phone audio guide created for the exhibition presents a reading by Bob Holman of the poems he composed. With the counterpoint of Holman’s engaging poetry, as well as the works in other media, the exhibition becomes a transfixing group portrait that explores the idea of the “art circle” and its importance to an artist’s work and life.
The exhibition features two photogravures measuring over 47 x 40 inches. Invented in 1869, the photogravure process was the earliest method used to widely distribute photographic imagery. It consists of etching a photographic image onto a metal plate, which is then inked and printed. Although he was intrigued by the idea of translating his photographs into prints, Close found most photogravures tonally flat or extreme in their contrasts.These problems were overcome in his recent collaboration with the University of South Florida Printstudio. The photogravures were created by a meticulous process of etching and re-etching to bring out the full depth and tonal range of the original images.
The exhibition is accompanied by an oversized volume published by Aperture (November 2006). Originally published in 2004 as a limited-edition portfolio, the new Aperture trade edition ($50; $45 for AMOA Members) makes this unique collaborative project available to a wider audience while preserving the sensibility of the limited edition. The book includes a lively interview with Close and Holman conducted by art critic and author Lyle Rexer.
Austin Museum of Art
Closed Mondays and holidays Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday Noon – 5 p.m.
823 Congress Avenue between 9th Street and Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas, 78701