Posts Tagged ‘Facies

16
Jan
14

Text: ‘Facile, Facies, Facticity’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan; Exhibition: ‘About Face: Contemporary Portraiture’ at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 9th August 2013 – 19th January 2014

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Facile, Facies, Facticity

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“The structure of presentation – point-of-view and frame – is intimately implicated in the reproduction of ideology (the ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’). More than any other textual system, the photograph presents itself as ‘an offer you can’t refuse’.”

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Victor Burgin 1

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Facies simultaneously signifies the singular air of a face, the particularity of its aspect, as well as the genre or species under which this aspect should be subsumed. The facies would thus be a face fixed to a synthetic combination of the universal and the singular: the visage fixed to the regime of representation, in a Helgian sense.

Why the face? – Because in the face the corporeal surface makes visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally. This also holds for the Cartesian science of the expression of the passions, and perhaps also explains why, from the outset, psychiatric photography took the form of an art of the portrait.”

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Georges Didi-Huberman 2

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How shallow contemporary portrait photography has become when compared to the sensual portraits of Julia Margaret Cameron, the grittiness of Gordon Parks or the in your face style of Diane Arbus. I think the word facile (from Latin facilis ‘easy’, from facers ‘do, make’) with its link to the etymologically similar word ‘face’ (Old Latin facies) is a good way to describe most of the photographs in this posting. These simplistic, nihilistic portraits, with their contextless backgrounds and head on frontally (also the name of an insipid Australian portrait photography prize), are all too common in contemporary portraiture. People with dead pan expressions stare at the camera, stare off camera. The photographs offer little insight and small engagement for the viewer. If these photographs are representative of the current ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’ vis a vis the construction of identity then the human race is in deep shit indeed. As we accept an offer that we can’t refuse – the reflexivity of selfies, an idealised or passive image of ourselves reflected back through the camera lens – we uncritically accept the mirror image, substituting passive receptivity for active (critical) reading. We no longer define and engage critically with something we might call ‘photographic discourse’:

“A discourse can be defined as an arena of information exchange, that is, as a system of relations between parties engaged in communicative activity. In a very important sense the notion of discourse is a notion of limits. That is, the overall discourse relation could be regarded as a limiting function, one that establishes a bounded arena of shared expectations as to meaning. It is this limiting function that determines the very possibility of meaning. To raise the issue of limits, of the closure affected from within any given discourse situation, is to situate oneself outside, in a fundamentally metacritical relation, to the criticism sanctioned by the logic of the discourse…

A discourse, then, can be defined in rather formal terms as the set of relations governing the rhetoric of related utterances. The discourse is, in the most general sense, the context of the utterance, the conditions that constrain and support its meaning, that determine its semantic target.”3

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These photographs have few conditions that support their meaning. The context of their utterances is constrained by their own efficacy and passivity. Paul Virilio, speaking of contemporary images, describes them as ‘viral’. He suggests that they communicate by contamination, by infection. In our ‘media’ or ‘information’ society we now have a ‘pure seeing’; a seeing without knowing.4 A seeing without knowing… quite appropriate for these faceless images, images that contaminate how we observe humans living in the world. Of course, one can be involved in logical criticism of the discourse from within but that still gives the discourse power. By situating yourself outside the conditions that constrain the discourse, you can criticise from a different perspective, “seeing something new” as an active, temporal protension of seeing. “Such is the fundamental instability of the pleasure of seeing, of Schaulust, between memory and threat.”5 We may glance, instead of staring (as the subject of these portraits blankly stare back) – the glance becoming a blow of the eye, the acting-out of seeing.6

Here is a possible way forward for contemporary photographic portraiture: a description of the states of the body and the air of the face through a subtle and constant art of the recovering of surfaces, an inquiry that always seeks depth – conceptual depth – in the filmy fabric or stratum of the cameras imaging of the constructed subject. In other words an inquiry into the source, the etiology and logic of the subjects own being – through the glance, not the passive gaze. Even as the object of knowledge is photographically detained for observation, fixed to objectivity, that knowledge can slip away from itself into what Georges Didi-Huberman calls the paradox of photographic resemblance.7

“Thus photography is ultimately an uncertain technique (see Barthes. Camera Lucida. p.18.), changeable and ill-famed, too. Photography stages bodies: changeability. And at one moment or another, subtly, it belies them (invents them), submitting them instead to figurative extortion. As figuration, photography always poses the enigma of the “recumbence of the intelligible body,” even as it lends itself to some understanding of this enigma, and even as this understanding is suffocated…

And when one comes to pose oneself, before a photograph, paradoxical questions: whom does this photographed face resemble? Exactly whose face is being photographed? In the end, doesn’t a photograph resemble just anyone? Well, one cannot, for all that, simply push resemblance aside like a poorly posed problem. Rather, one points a finger at Resembling as an unstable, vain, and phantasmatic temporal motion. One interrogates the drama of imaginary evidence.
For “to resemble,” or Resembling, is the name for a major concern about time in the visible. This is precisely what exposes all photographic evidence to anxiety, and beyond it, to staging, compromises, twisted meanings, and simulacra. And this is how photography circumvents itself – in its own sacrilege. It blasphemes it own evidence because evidence is diabolical. It ruins evidence, from a theater.”8

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Only through slippage may we stumble upon the uncertainty of the soul in the uncertainty of the photographic technique. Only through the facticity of the face, the “thrownness” – Heidegger’s Geworfen, which denotes the arbitrary or inscrutable nature of Dasein, being there or presence, that connects the past with the present, just as photographs do – of the individual rendered in the lines of the human face can we engage with the intractable conditions of human existence. Not a bland resemblance-filled anxiety (the hair covering the face, the face in suburban ephemera, the compressed face pressed up against the condensation-filled window), but an unstable signification that has been passionately re(as)sembled in the anxiety of photographic evidence. Only then can contemporary portrait photography make visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally.

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“Into this world we’re thrown /
Like a dog without a bone”
(Jim Morrison, Riders on the Storm, 1971)

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog.

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Footnotes

1. Burgin, Victor (ed.,). Thinking Photography. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982, p. 146

2. Didi-Huberman, Georges. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 49

3. Burgin, pp.84-85

4. Virilio, Paul. “The Work of Art in the Electronic Age,” in Block No. 14, Autumn, 1988, pp.4-7 quoted in McGrath, Roberta. “Medical Police,” in Ten.8 No.14, 1984 quoted in Watney, Simon and Gupta, Sunil. “The Rhetoric of AIDS,” in Boffin, Tessa and Gupta, Sunil (eds.,). Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1990, p.143

5. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., pp. 27-28

6. Ibid., “Coup d’oeil, signifying “glance,” literally means the “blow of an eye.” Here as elsewhere, Didi-Huberman draws on the notion of the glance as a blow. He also works with the various meanings of trait, including trait, line, draught, and shaft of an arrow” – Translator

7. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., p. 59

8. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., p. 65

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Many thankx to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Rachel Herman, American 'Hannah and Tim' 2007

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Rachel Herman, American
Hannah and Tim
2007
Inkjet print (printed 2012)
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Anna Shteynshleyger, Russian (b. 1977) 'City of Destiny (Covered)' 2007

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Anna Shteynshleyger, Russian (b. 1977)
City of Destiny (Covered)
2007
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Lise Sarfati, French (b. 1958) 'Emily, 2860 Sunset Blvd.' 2012

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Lise Sarfati, French (b. 1958)
Emily, 2860 Sunset Blvd.
2012
Chromogenic print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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2011-67-54_Soth-MotherAndDaughter_front_WEB

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Alec Soth
Mother and daughter, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1999
1999

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LaToya Ruby Frazier, American (b. 1982) 'Momme' 2008

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LaToya Ruby Frazier, American (b. 1982)
Momme
2008
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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“This exhibition will explore the breadth and global diversity of contemporary photographic portraiture since 2000, highlighting recent acquisitions to the museum’s permanent collection.

About Face will include works by twenty-nine artists from the United States, England, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, Iran and South Africa. Though each of these photographers approaches portrait-making differently, certain thematic threads resonate throughout the show, including questions of racial, cultural, ethnic, class and gender identity; the relationship between individuals and typologies; the way photographic processes themselves inform meaning; the relevance of historical precedents to contemporary practice; and the impact of media stereotypes on self-presentation. Considered collectively, the works in About Face offer a provocative and engaging forum for considering the question: how do we define portraiture today?

The project will present two distinct, simultaneous exhibitions: About Face, our in-gallery exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins, and Making Pictures of People, a digital exhibition presented online for web-based audiences worldwide. Visitors will be able to access the Flak Photo exhibition via touch screens in the gallery and on mobile devices outside the museum. The goal of our collaboration is twofold: to celebrate the complementary experiences of engaging with photographs as objects and as images, and to connect museum visitors in Kansas City with an international community deeply engaged in thinking about portraiture and contemporary photographic practice.

“Contemporary photographers approach portraiture from multiple perspectives, and this show reflects that diversity,” said April M. Watson, who co-curated this exhibition with Jane L. Aspinwall (both are Associate Curators of Photography). “Some portraits emphasize the construction of identity through race, gender and class, while others question the relationship between individuality and typology, or the impact of the media on self-presentation. At the core is the relationship between the photographer and his or her subject, and how that interaction translates in the final portrait.” Adds Aspinwall: “Some of these photographers use antiquated processes such as the daguerreotype and tintype to make portraits of contemporary subjects. These historical resonances add an interesting dimension to the show.”

Press release from the  Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website

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Richard Learoyd, English (b. 1966) 'Erika' 2007

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Richard Learoyd, English (b. 1966)
Erika
2007
Ilfachrome print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

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Jocelyn Lee, American (b. Italy, 1962) 'Untitled (Julia and Greenery)' 2005

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Jocelyn Lee, American (b. Italy, 1962)
Untitled (Julia and Greenery)
2005
Chromogenic print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Jim Goldberg, American (b.1953) 'Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo' 2008

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Jim Goldberg, American (b.1953)
Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo
2008
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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2012-17-93_Winship-Hakkari8_WEB

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Vanessa Winship, British (b. 1960)
Hakkari 8
2007/2008
Inkjet print (printed 2008)
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Pieter Hugo, South African (b. 1976) 'Annebelle Schreuders (1)' 2012

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Pieter Hugo, South African (b. 1976)
Annebelle Schreuders (1)
2012
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Sage Sohier, American (b. 1954) '12-Year Old Boy with His Father' 2009

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Sage Sohier, American (b. 1954)
12-Year Old Boy with His Father
2009
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Michael Wolf, American (b. 1954) 'Tokyo Compression #18' 2010

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Michael Wolf, American (b. 1954)
Tokyo Compression #18
2010
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Tomoko Sawada, Japanese (b. 1977) 'Recruit/BLACK' 2006

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Tomoko Sawada, Japanese (b. 1977)
Recruit/BLACK
2006
Chromogenic print
Purchase: acquired through the generosity of the Photography Society

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The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

Opening hours:
Wednesday 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday-Friday 10 am – 9 pm
Saturday 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

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17
Nov
11

Exhibition: ‘Renaissance Faces. Masterpieces of Italian Portraiture’
 at the 
Bode Museum, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 25th August – 20th November 2011

 

 

Filippo Lippi (Italian, 1406-1469)
Portrait of a Man and a Woman at a Casement
c. 1440
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

The Legend of the Surface, the Facies

Facies simultaneously signifies the singular air of a face, the particularity of its aspect, as well as the genre or species under which this aspect should be subsumed. The facies would thus be a face fixed to a synthetic combination of the universal and the singular: the visage fixed to the regime of representation, in a Helgian sense.

Why the face? – Because in the face the corporeal surface makes visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally.”

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Georges Didi-Huberman 1

 

Many thankx to the Bode Museum for allowing me to publish the artwork in the posting. Please click on the images for a larger version.

  1. Didi-Huberman, Georges. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 49

 

 

Antonio del Pollaiuolo (Italian, 1429-1498)
Portrait of a Young Lady
c. 1465
Berlin, National Museums in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
© National Museums in Berlin, Jörg P. Anders

 

 

Antonio del Pollaiuolo (Italian, 1429-1498)
Portrait of a Young Woman
c. 1465-70
© Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan

 

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1445-1520)
Profile Portrait of a Young Lady (Simonetta Vespucci?)
c. 1476
Berlin, National Museums in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
© National Museums in Berlin, Jörg P. Anders

 

 

Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi (c.  1445 – May 17, 1510), known as Sandro Botticelli, was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. He belonged to the Florentine School under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici, a movement that Giorgio Vasari would characterise less than a hundred years later in his Vita of Botticelli as a “golden age”. Botticelli’s posthumous reputation suffered until the late 19th century; since then, his work has been seen to represent the linear grace of Early Renaissance painting.

 

 

Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452-1519)
Lady with an Ermine (portrait of Cecilia Gallerani)
1489-90
Kraków, owned by Princes Czartoryski Foundation, at the National Museum
© bpk / Scala

 

 

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci,known as Leonardo da Vinci , was an Italian polymath of the Renaissance whose areas of interest included invention, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, paleontology, and cartography. He has been variously called the father of palaeontology, ichnology, and architecture, and is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time (despite perhaps only 15 of his paintings having survived).

 

 

The Gemäldegalerie – National Museums in Berlin and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, have joined forces in organising a major exhibition on the genesis of the Italian portrait. For Berlin, the Bode Museum presents itself as the ideal location to hold such an exhibition: on its opening in 1904, it was conceived by its founder, Wilhelm von Bode, as a ‘Renaissance Museum’ on the Museum Island. The Bode Museum will host the first stage of the exhibition, running from 25 August to 20 November 2011, before it subsequently goes on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, from 19 December 2011 to 18 March 2012.

More than 150 key works, including paintings, drawings, medals and busts, are about to go on display for the first time together. The more than 50 lenders include the Uffizi in Florence, the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London. Among the exhibition’s many highlights is Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine from the Czartoryski Collection, Cracow.

The exhibition highlights depictions of the appearance and personality of real people. Portraits of feminine beauty vie with portraits of generals, princes and humanists, offering us a fascinating insight into the age of the early Renaissance.

At the heart of the exhibition stands the Italian Renaissance portrait. The Italian art of portraiture evolved under the influence of antique models. However, it was equally shaped by the innovations of the great Netherlandish painters. The history of the art of portraiture, from Pisanello up to Verrocchio, Botticelli, Bellini and Leonardo, is retold in a selection of magnificent and sensational key works, including paintings, sculptures, medals and drawings. The exhibition focuses both on the art produced at the Italian courts, as well as the development of the portrait in Florence and Venice.

A unique architectural and lighting concept, especially designed for the exhibition, takes into account the individual qualities of each exhibit in its presentation. Of crucial importance here is the aesthetic experience, both of the quality of the artworks and of the materials used in creating them.

The artistic diversity evident in these early portraits, the various roles the images served and their historical contexts all resonate with suspense. The Gemäldegalerie – National Museums in Berlin and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York embarked on an intense collaboration to present this to the general public. Masterpieces from New York and the rich collections of the National Museums in Berlin, not just from the Gemäldegalerie itself but also from the Sculpture Collection, Kupferstichkabinett and Numismatic Collection, offer visitors an unprecedented insight into this epoch. Furthermore, for the first time the show in the Bode Museum also encompasses all media of Italian Renaissance portraiture – medals, drawings, sculptures and panel paintings.

Portraits – either in the form of a painting, photograph and less often a medal – have become commonplace today, but between the 5th and 15th century independent portraits of individual people were rare and the exclusive reserve of rulers and historic figures. Only in the 15th century did it again become customary for artists on both sides of the Alps to produce independent portraits of men and women. Today’s exhibition Renaissance Faces pays homage to Italy’s contribution to this first great age of European portraiture and conveys a sense of the innovative ways in which artists responded to the challenge of creating individual portraits and how they explored questions of identity that arose as a result.

When selecting the exhibits, the organisers’ chief aim was to highlight the prevailing conventions and decisive innovations in a period spanning more than eight decades. Set against the backdrop of Italy’s geographical, political and cultural complexities in the 15th century, the exhibition is divided into three clearly outlined thematic sections. The first of these is Florence, as it was here that the independent portrait first appeared on a significant scale. The visitor’s gaze is then directed to the courts of Ferrara, Mantua, Bologna, Milan, Urbino, Naples and finally papal Rome. The circle is then completed in Venice, where a portrait tradition only established itself remarkably late in the century. In each section, works in all media are juxtaposed with each other to give visitors the chance to see for themselves how the various art forms mutually influenced each other with their own unique qualities.

In a society dominated by family descent and social hierarchies, conventions were binding. And it is precisely these conventions that are depicted in profile portraits from 15th-century Italy. Profile portraits were equally popular as reliefs or paintings. Compared with the far more naturalistic art produced north of the Alps, which people in 15th-century Italy were definitely familiar with, this form of portrait seems at first a little surprising, as the Italian artists present the sitters in a soft light and at a slight angle to the picture plane. The sitters are seen standing either at a window or behind a parapet and gaze at the viewer. Sometimes a hand is seen resting on the edge of the painted frame. When looking at these images, it is clear that Italian portraits are not primarily concerned with achieving an accurate likeness, at least not in the conventional sense. Italian portraits do not so much reveal personality, rather convey social conventions and cultural identity.

The profile portrait was frequently given such exceptional importance in Italy, because it largely drew from Roman coins and reliefs for inspiration. But the profile portrait has always been the most elementary form of capturing someone’s likeness. Informal, direct and frontal views have become so familiar to us in portraits today thanks to photography that we first have to be resensitised to the unique possibilities inherent in the profile portrait. For one, it makes it possible to objectify a person’s outer appearance and allows physiognomies to convey cultural meaning. The pleasing aspect of a high forehead, the refinement or contemptuousness expressed in a raised brow, the aristocratic curve of a nose and the severity or gentleness of a chin and jawline – all these are physiognomical characteristics that come to stand as emblems for beauty, rank and power.

Press release from the Bode Museum website quoting the exhibition catalogue

 

 

Pisanello (Antonio Pisano) (Italian, 1395-1455)
Portrait of Leonello d’Este
c. 1444
Bergamo, Accademia Carrara
© Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

 

 

Pisanello (c. 1395 – c. 1455), known professionally as Antonio di Puccio Pisano or Antonio di Puccio da Cereto, also erroneously called Vittore Pisano by Giorgio Vasari, was one of the most distinguished painters of the early Italian Renaissance and Quattrocento. He was acclaimed by poets such as Guarino da Verona and praised by humanists of his time, who compared him to such illustrious names as Cimabue, Phidias and Praxiteles.

 

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1445-1520)
Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici
c. 1478
Washington, National Gallery of Art
© Art Resource, New York

 

 

Andrea Mantegna (Italian, 1431-1506)
Portrait of Cardinal Ludovico Trevisano
c. 1459
Berlin, National Museums in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
© National Museums in Berlin, Jörg P. Anders

 

 

Andrea Mantegna (c.  1431 – September 13, 1506) was an Italian painter, a student of Roman archeology, and son-in-law of Jacopo Bellini. Like other artists of the time, Mantegna experimented with perspective, e.g. by lowering the horizon in order to create a sense of greater monumentality. His flinty, metallic landscapes and somewhat stony figures give evidence of a fundamentally sculptural approach to painting. He also led a workshop that was the leading producer of prints in Venice before 1500.

 

 

Antonello da Messina (Italian, 1430-1479)
Portrait of a Young Man
1478
Berlin, National Museums in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
© National Museums in Berlin, Jörg P. Anders

 

 

Antonello da Messina, properly Antonello di Giovanni di Antonio, but also called Antonello degli Antoni and Anglicised as Anthony of Messina (c. 1430 – February 1479), was an Italian painter from Messina, Sicily, active during the Early Italian Renaissance. His work shows strong influences from Early Netherlandish painting although there is no documentary evidence that he ever travelled beyond Italy. Giorgio Vasari credited him with the introduction of oil painting into Italy. Unusually for a south Italian artist of the Renaissance, his work proved influential on painters in northern Italy, especially in Venice.

 

 

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Am Kupfergraben 1, 10117 Berlin

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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