Man has been creating images of himself since he began making pictures. It makes sense: As with the literary maxim "write what you know," use of the human form as subject matter might come so naturally for artists because of the simple fact that they have one. Accessed as a site of information, universal observations about the complexities of the human condition can be rendered in a timeless and relatable fashion. Also, the body as a symbol is identifiable. Until we finally breed with the three-headed aliens hidden away at Area 51, centuries-old portraiture will remain meaningful beyond its obvious merits as an object because we are still, in essence, looking at a recognizable version of ourselves. And looking at ourselves is something we human animals love to do.
- Through January 9; Sunday-Tuesday & Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Wednesday, Friday & Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
- Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, 693-7871
The enduring attributes of figurative art are integral to the success of Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art's Figuratively Speaking: a Survey of the Human Form. In works spanning from roughly 1882 through 2010, the exhibition nicely utilizes the subject of the figure to explore various trends in art-making while offering punctuated moments of real and thoughtful human foible. Life's truths are often revealed in the face of a stranger.
Sculptor, dancer and performance artist Nick Cave's "Soundsuit" is the most flagrant example of what a simple body can convey. Cave is famous for his whimsical hand-made full body suits that incorporate a variety of found objects and materials that naturally produce sound when worn; this can range from the whoosh of fringe to the clanking of bead work. Most effectively experienced in live performance, they transform the body into an anonymous, highly textured and usually brightly colored living sound sculpture. Here, Cave's "Soundsuit" is a body stocking of Technicolor crocheted granny-knit fragments topped off from the shoulders up by a spindly halo of vintage tin toys. As worn by a mannequin, tension develops between the isolated, trapped confines of the suit and its teetering precipice on the brink of an exuberant cacophony.
Immediately adjacent is Ann Hamilton's small gelatin silver print, "Untitled from the Body/Object Series." A virtuoso, Hamilton is best known for spare installations that utilize texture and textiles to articulate the hard to define subtleties of the senses and sensual experience. In the photo, Hamilton's anonymous figure (on the brink of movement) is adorned by a halo of leafless branches similar in profile to Cave's suit. Hamilton modestly echoes the essence of Cave's riotous clamor, embedding within vitality the deep sense that we are solitary, kinetic, tactile creatures.
This pairing is just one example in an exhibition rooted in invigorating juxtapositions. A painting by contemporary Japanese pop artist Yoshitomo Nara coupled with a similarly hued 1928 offering by Andre Derain mesmerizes. The dreamy, classical timelessness of Nara's oeuvre is revealed as the Derain is instantly refreshed, daring and current. Each accentuates the orgiastic craftsmanship of the other.
The taut double-whammy of a Cindy Sherman alongside Yasumasa Morimura is ruthless. Master archaeologists exploring modes of representation in popular culture, each use their own visage in photographic form to excavate notions of desire and femininity. In full makeup and costume, Morimura assumes the role of Frida Kahlo in a reinterpretation of Kahlo's "Self-Portrait Wearing a Collar of Thorns and Hummingbirds," while Sherman's "Untitled" from 1975 has the artist transformed into a woman manically conveying the image of a perfect housewife/girl next door/ insert cinematic stereotype here.
Some works extricate themselves from these pairings and stand firmly on their own. Milton Avery's brilliant sensitivity to color is highlighted here by a young woman who is literally absorbed by her clothing. Vanessa Beecroft takes Navy men in uniform, places them in a white cube, and renders them static, monumental, and monolithic. Tony Oursler compounds video upon video as the eye becomes a window into the television of the soul. Roy Lichtenstein's dot-matrix pointing finger, disembodied and culturally charged, wants you and holds you accountable all at the same time. And Joseph Cornell is, well, amazing as usual.
For her premier turn as sole curator of the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, director Tarissa Tiberti's objective was to exhibit pieces from MGM Mirage's exceptional art collection. Working in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Tiberti exceeds this conservative goal. Figuratively Speaking achieves on a number of levels, taking a dusty theme and shedding new light on its subjective significance, proving that the human attraction to figurative imagery transcends simple species narcissism.