Art in the City: 

Artist of the Portrait

Face Foward
Gallery W 52, through Sept 10
Almost as old as the human race itself is our narcissistic fascination with depicting ourselves artistically. This exhibition, open 24/7 and free of charge (take that, MoMA) in the lobby of a 52nd Street office building, celebrates the myriad shapes portraiture can take. The thesis — that portraiture comes in all forms and mediums — is unspecific and somewhat dreary; the works illustrating the point are anything but. If you enter the building on the 51st Street side, you’ll be faced with Suzanne Opton’s larger-than-life photos of two male heads at rest, titled Soldier: Pry, 210 Days in Afghanistan and Soldier: Claxton, 120 Days in Afghanistan. The images’ high magnification reveal every detail of the subjects’ features: Claxton’s lip bears a small pink mark from shaving, Pry has an eyelash on his cheek. It’s painful to imagine these delicate faces enduring the violence of war. With the implications of the works’ titles and the tenderness of her shots, Opton draws us in and leaves us wanting more. Meanwhile, Sean Krupa shows us both the process and the products of his work. Pastel splotches on unstretched canvas look like a toddler’s experiment with color, but a quick look at the accompanying video reveals that they’re in fact the remnants of Krupa’s paint-covered face, which he carefully pressed across the fabric like an inked fingertip at the local precinct. The artist has taken the most recognizable symbol of his identity and rendered it unidentifiable. Among the video pieces is Tony Tasset’s I AM U R Me, a looping shot of the artist and his wife and child eating breakfast together. In a matter of seconds, the child morphs into the mother, the mother into the father, and the father into the child, and then again. The seamless computer animation (which recalls, at least for those of us who watched a lot of TV in the ‘80s, Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White’ video) is hard to wrest your eyes from, and the implications of the piece — that the members of Tasset’s family are part of a continuous, fluid whole — is a romantic and creative depiction of the nuclear unit. This, as critic Joao Ribas notes at the end of his essay on the show, is a feature of the best kind of portrait: one that enlarges the scope of what portraiture itself can communicate.

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