The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Front and Back
Chuck Close
Nudes 1967-2014
Photo by Chuck Close . Source: copyright  Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery<p>Chuck Close<p>Bintou I, 2013<p>black and white Polaroid diptych mounted on aluminum<p>56" x 22" (142.2 cm x 55.9 cm), two panels, each
Chuck Close, "Bintou I, " 2013, courtesy of Pace Gallery.

Everybody loves Chuck Close. Probably the best-known living American artist, (sorry Jeff Koons), Close’s paintings are rigorous yet approachable, he is a serious artist, but his work is playful and joyous. And of course, his back-story is a made for TV special. Paralyzed at the age of 48, his disabilities became a shaping force in his art practice, and then there is the recent revelation (hear his account of this on Radiolab) that he is a portraitist who suffers from prosopagnosia, the inability to remember and recognize faces!

Throughout his career Close has integrated photography into his paintings–– first in his early photo-realistic style, then in the post-paralysis development of his pixilated grids. He has also exhibited his own photographs on occasion over the years. So then what’s not to like in a show entitled Chuck Close ‘Nudes 1967-2014’? In a word “Pace”, but let’s look at some of the good points first.

Photo by Chuck Close . Source: All Artwork copyright  Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery<p>Chuck Close<p>Laura I, 1984<p>color Polaroids mounted on aluminum<p>97" x 215" (243.8 cm x 546.1 cm), overall installed<p>97" x 43" (243.8 cm x 109.2 cm), five panels, each.
Chuck Close, "Laura 1" 1984, courtesy of Pace Gallery.

The cavernous expanse of the Pace Gallery on 25th street demands large work and this show does not disappoint. The dominant piece in the first room is a large, photo-realistic painting from 1967 of a female nude reclining across a 10 x 24 foot divan. This is the only painting in the show, and, true to form, nearly every hair on her body can be discerned. On the other walls hang a suitably large diptych, a triptych and a 24 ft long pentaptych, done in the now extinct 40 x 80 inch Polaroid format. The 5 part nude, “Laura” reproduces the classic pose of the “Big Nude” painting, but while it could have been a model for the painting, it was, in fact, done 18 years later. Still, both the painting and photographs in the room have enough presence and life to stand with some of the best Close portraits.

The tone changes as you proceed to the second gallery. Here we begin to see the bulk of what only can be described as the Close collection of nudes. With row upon row of nudes, almost always paired front and back, most with little or no contrapposto, many shown only from neck to thigh, the galleries take on the air of an oversized exhibit of bugs in a natural history museum. We see the males and the females, we see varieties with dark skin and with light skin, and (though most of the models seem to be of breeding age,) we see a few examples of older specimens as well. (Thank goodness, no immature ones.) The press release invites us to view these as a record of body types and grooming preferences (ouch) over the past 50 years.

Photo by Chuck Close . Source: copyright Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery<p>Chuck Close<p>Untitled Torso Diptych, 2001<p>daguerreotype<p>8-1/2" x 6-1/2" (21.6 cm x 16.5 cm), two panels, each<p>
Chuck Close, "Untitled Torso Diptych" 2001, courtesy of Pace Gallery.

The photographs are two types: 20 x 24 inch Polaroids, and plate sized daguerreotypes. It is with the daguerrotypes that Pace show makes its most egregious mistake. Daguerrotypes are bright and shiny with an almost holographic quality and are best seen held in one’s hands and slowly moved about. They are notoriously difficult to show mounted in museums or galleries, although with the development of fiber optics in recent years they have been effectively displayed. In the display at Pace, the plates are laid out at an angle in a vitrine then broadly lit from above. This makes it impossible to view them close-up, forcing the viewer to stand back several feet and angle the images between the reflections on the vitrine glass. Produced with the daguerrotype master Jerry Spagnoli, these images are probably glowing and magical, but I can only imagine that.

Photo by Chuck Close . Source: copyright Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery<p>Chuck Close<p>Ky I, 2013<p>black and white Polaroid diptych mounted on aluminum<p>56" x 22" (142.2 cm x 55.9 cm), two panels, each<p>
Chuck Close, "Ky 1" 2013, courtesy of Pace Gallery.

The polaroids here are similar to Close’s more familiar polaroid portraits: highly detailed with the color rendition more subdued than the intense color of most commercial photographs today. Clinical is too harsh a word to describe them, as the lighting and pose are straightforward, but not lifeless. They fall rather into the “documents for artists” tradition of old French postcards — not overtly erotic, but then it doesn’t take much imagination to push them over the edge.

The “Artistic Nudes” tradition in photography (especially the “Male Gaze” version of it) has not been a presence in western art circles for decades, and there are still some slightly creepy overtones to Close’s images. Still, as a catalyst for thinking about how we see and respond to the human body, Chuck Close’s images are about as solid and honest as any produced today.

Chuck Close
Nudes 1967-2014

The Pace Gallery
534 W 25th St.
Chelsea         Map

212 929 7000

Friday, February 28 to
Saturday, March 29, 2014
Hours: Tues-Sat 10 to 6

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