New York Academy of Art's latest exhibition at the Southampton Arts Center paints a few unlikely portrait.
Esteban Ocampo-Giraldo, Selfie After Valentine’s Day (2017).
“I like characters who are not smiling—they’re sort of blank,” Cindy Sherman once said. “It makes the viewer come up with the narrative.” The artist’s enigmatic expression is one of some 70 stories waiting to be told in the New York Academy of Art’s “About Face: Contemporary Portraiture,” on view through September 17 at the Southampton Arts Center. Spanning painting, photography, and sculpture, the exhibition is a reminder of the enduring power of portraits in an age of infinite, transient selfies.
“The human figure, particularly the face, is the visual key to our emotions,” says Scott Avett, lead singer of folk-rock band the Avett Brothers, who curated the show with Academy President David Kratz (both Avett and Kratz are also painters, with works in the show). “We are all immediately drawn to familiar expressions and positions that we recognize and relate to, either through association, curiosity, or longing.”
The work of Academy artists is featured alongside that of celebrated East Enders such as Sherman, Eric Fischl, and Ralph Gibson. “The talent is legendary,” adds Avett.
Expressive canvases by the likes of Dana Schutz, Nicole Eisenman, and Mickalene Thomas draw visitors into the heart of the survey. Laurie Simmons is represented by two large-scale photographs from her recent “How We See” series, in which prismatically lit models appear to glare through closed eyelids painted to look like open eyes. The doll-like effect, at once mesmerizing and unsettling, is echoed in Peter Drake’s Doughboy, a painting that transforms a toy soldier into a griz zled war veteran.
“Every face tells a story if you take the time to read it,” says Kratz. “This is a way to present some of those stories—the ones that are particularly relevant today. We get a pretty complete picture of how contemporary artists are looking at the world around them and, I dare say, themselves.” July 28–September 17, 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton, 631-283-0967; southamptonartscenter.org