Monday, December 01, 2008

Portraits - A Snapshot

“Just as the camera drove a stake through the heart of serious portraiture, television has killed the novel of social reportage.” This from Jonathan Franzen’s essay, “Why Bother?”, reprinted in his book, How to Be Alone. What caught me here was not his lament for the novel, but the assumption that serious portraiture is dead. It’s true that the paintbrush as a tool for social reportage has mostly been displaced by cameras in the hands of everyone from your dad at Thanksgiving to Annie Leibovitz. But serious portrait painting has been and continues to be practiced by Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Elizabeth Peyton, in ways that comment on contemporary society and on the personality of the sitter. The fact that Elizabeth Peyton often works from photographs, not life, intensifies rather than diminishes her insights into the psychological makeup of her subjects. Instead, it’s reflective of the ways in which information is delivered these days – at several removes from reality. And the bright, harsh color juxtapositions mirror our secular world in the same way that Lucas Cranach the Elder’s portraits mirrored the darks and lights of the Reformation in Saxony. That's his Martin Luther upper left.

Elizabeth Peyton’s exhibition Live Forever is on view at the New Museum through January 11. There’s an excellent slide show/interview online.

In another portrait story, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne believes it has identified a Dosso Dossi portrait of Lucrezia Borgia.

And to follow up on my November 17 blog about Relational Aesthetics, John Perreault’s Artopia blog has a great tour of the show at the Guggenheim, theanyspacewhatever, with commentary on the artists and the RA movement, or absence thereof.

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