A Couple Ways of Doing Something: Photographs by Chuck Close, Poems by Bob Holman
Austin Museum of Art
August 22 – November, 8 2009
Post by Katie Smither
A Couple Ways of Doing Something: Photographs by Chuck Close, Poems by Bob Holman at the Austin Museum of Art provides a glimpse into what Chuck Close has been working on in these last few years, outside of painting. Throughout the entire exhibition there are only two paintings by Close and they are not part of the traveling exhibit. The show forces us to consider his different and more recent approaches to portraiture.
A Couple of Ways of Doing Something is a collection of daguerreotypes made by Close. The works sit in a row as the source of everything else on display. The subjects are the artist’s friends and colleagues, including Lorna Simpson, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Anderson, and Phillip Glass. From these images, the same black and white portraits exist as photogravures, woven tapestries, digital pigment prints, and poems. Together, these works become an example of using different sets of tools to interpret or re-interpret one set of information.
The daguerreotypes on pedestals are at the center of the work (they were pretty cool as objects to be perfectly honest, partly because they feel nostalgic, ephemeral and permanent, but also partly because I have no clue how to make one). Several tapestries hang from floor to ceiling and of everything on display, these were the most interesting. The portraits taken from the daguerreotypes were translated into the language of weaving, each one at least eight feet tall. In typical Chuck Close fashion, the precision and accuracy of the image is spectacular and brings the viewer close to peer across the surface, forces you back, then demands you go back in for a second look. The process was confusing and I spent a while trying to figure out how the threads create the portrait, that creates the tapestry. Leading me to discover that although a lot of the threads are colored, the image is black and white!
These almost function like Close’s past large-scale paintings, but the magic gets lost before the trick is over because the tapestries were organized by a computer and woven on a Jacquard loom. It’s not surprising when the special effects team pulls a rabbit out of a hat.
Black and white prints of the daguerreotype images also don the walls on large sheets of white paper, each with its respective Bob Holman poem about the featured artist. This smells like a wonderful idea. To consider a poem a portrait? It’s such a wonderful idea, I wish the image and poem had not been printed on the same piece of paper, but separated. Allowing the visual and linguistic descriptions of the single subject to stand independent of the other. Can a poem compete with a photo? Which would win?
A Couple Ways of Doing Something perfectly describes the variety of work on display. The common thread (pun intended) however, was indeed the approach. Hear me out. The production of every portrait lay within technology, digital and mechanical. Photos, digital prints, typed poems, weaving patterns in the computer, and photogravures; they all remove the hand of the artist, which when talking about Chuck Close, raises fantastic questions about representation and expression in making art.