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  • Worcester Art Museum Gets Close to Chuck Close

    WORCESTER, MASS., OCTOBER 27, 2000 - In a unique visual exchange between the ancient world and the art of our time, the Worcester Art Museum presents Chuck Close from December 9, 2000 to March 25, 2001. Inspired by Close's keen interest in ancient floor mosaics, this show is the first to explore the relationship between his work and mosaics of the past, and coincides with the Museum's landmark exhibition, Antioch: The Lost Ancient City.

    Organized by Susan Stoops, curator of Contemporary Art at the Worcester Art Museum, Chuck Close features four major canvases from the past decade, including images of fellow artists Joel Shapiro and William Wegman. A rarely exhibited silk rug (the subject of which is artist Lucas Samaras) and two paper pulp pieces will also be on view, including the Worcester Art Museum's Phil I, a well known image of composer Philip Glass. A brochure with comments from Close about the relationship of his work to ancient mosaics accompanies the exhibition.

    For more than 30 years, Close has been a leading figure in contemporary art working with a single subject-the human figure. Close's monumental portraits-or "heads" as he prefers to call them-are often intensely personal images of friends and family, distinguished by a degree of detachment that seems to border on the impersonal. Using photographs of his subjects as references and variations of the grid to construct the images in paint, each piece is both a highly abstract and systematic composition of individual strokes and a finely rendered likeness of his subject.

    "Artists... see both the device that makes the illusion and the illusion itself," Close says. "I'm as interested in the distribution of marks on a flat surface... as I am with the thing that ultimately gets depicted... [It's] shifting from one to another that really interests me."

    Close's recent paintings are a departure from his earlier hyper-real renderings. Utterly frontal and close-up, these images are constructed from hundreds of gridded squares or diamond shapes filled with abstract passages of paint. During the past decade, his experimentation with expectations of photographic focus has resulted in images that lose focus at close range and dissolve into a mosaic of miniature abstract compositions.

    According to Stoops: "In both Close's works and the Antioch mosaics there is a tension between the realism of the subjects depicted and the inherently flat, two dimensionality of the individual units used to construct an image-painted grids in Close's works and pieces of stone and glass (tesserae) in the mosaics. At the core of the viewer's experience of these processes, which are separated by more than 1400 years, is a subliminal awareness of individual units while the completed image of face or figures falls into focus."

    "The order or structure that is at the heart of representational illusion is, in the case of both Close's art and the mosaics, full of improvisation and artistic invention," Stoops adds. "Terms like 'realism' and 'representation' become relative and, whether a painting or mosaic, we discover that the medium creates its own distinct reality."

    In his paintings, Close moves systematically through an image, beginning a picture from one corner and working toward the opposite one without losing a sense of the whole. He frequently repeats his images from work to work, changing the scale or position of the grid as well as shifting from painting to drawing, printmaking, or collage.

    Like other artists of his Minimalist generation, Close reacted to the abstract expressionist aesthetic instructions he received with 'distrust.' In the '60s, while embracing the extra-large and confrontational format of 'action painting,' he abandoned abstraction for the human figure and expressionist gesture for the systematic mark.

    "As I was growing up in the '40s and '50s, paintings got bigger, the marks got bigger, the brushes got bigger, and yet the part-to-whole relationships stayed the same," Close says. "What I was trying to do with these paintings was to make a big, aggressive, confrontational, knock-your-socks-off image from a distance that was also extremely intimate... "

    When comparing his recent work to the 'hands-off' airbrushed acrylic monochromes that were his hallmark in the early works, Close's methods of painting has changed most noticeably in terms of the brushed application of oil in either monochrome or full palette, the larger, bold grid elements often set on the bias, and a bravura and abandon in terms of gesture and touch.

    Born in 1940 in Monroe, Washington, Close attended the University of Washington in Seattle, and Yale University School of Art and Architecture. After receiving a Fullbright Fellowship to study at the Akademie der Bildenen Künste in Vienna, Close began working from photographs in 1965. He had his first solo show in New York's Bykert Gallery in 1970. Close was the subject of a retrospective in 1989-99 organized by the Museum of Modern Art. His work is included in numerous private and public collections, including such prestigious institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art (NY), the Tate Gallery (London), and Musee national d'art moderne (France).

    UnumProvident Corporation sponsors this exhibition. Related lectures are listed below. Please call 508-799-4406, X-3007 to reserve a space.

    Robert Storr, Curator, Museum of Modern Art, New York
    Tuesday, February 13, 7PM
    Cost: $6 members, $8 non-members

    Chuck Close has distinguished himself as one of the leading American artists of the late 20th century. Throughout his career Close has focused almost exclusively on the human face. Robert Storr, curator of Close's recent mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, leads this exploration of the life and career of this fascinating artist.

    Talking Head
    Mark Lynch
    Wednesdays, March 14 and 21, 7PM
    Cost: Free and open to the public.
    Space is limited. Call 799-4406 ext. 3007 to reserve a place

    This exploration of portraiture uses the exhibition Chuck Close as inspiration. Moderated by Mark Lynch, topics for discussion are photography and portraits, the portrait in the contemporary world, and the relationship between portraiture and contemporary painting.

    Opened to the public in 1898, the Worcester Art Museum is the second largest art museum in New England and boasts a 35,000-piece collection comprised of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints, and drawings. The Museum's hours are: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am-5pm, and Saturday 10am-5pm. Admission: FREE for members; Non-members: $8 Adults; $6 Seniors and full-time college students with current ID; FREE for youth 17 and under; FREE for everyone Saturday mornings 10am-noon sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company. For more information, call (508) 799-4406, visit our web site at www.worcesterart.org, or visit the Museum at 55 Salisbury Street in Worcester.