Saturday, November 22, 2014

Beyond Reality

Colored marbles shine on a dark blue to black background, the largest surrounded by an almost perfect circle of smaller ones, in a carefully staged composition. Every details of the magnified objects are represented with minutia, including tiny speckles of air bubbles caught in the clear glass, bright dots of light glaring on the surface or curvy shadows reflecting on a mirror. These subtleties would not be detectable if one was looking at the real things, but the viewer is looking at an enlarged copy of a photograph, painted with oil on canvas.
Cat's Eye and the Best of  'Em, 1993, from Charles Bell is the introduction to Photorealism: The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Collection, an exhibition taking place at the New Orleans Museum of Art, dedicated to an art form which developed in the late sixties.  Gathering artists who use diverse techniques and never met, lacking a manifesto, photorealism is not considered an art movement. The word was coined by the art dealer Louis Meisel in 1969 to describe a new style born from photography. He also established a definition for the term which includes five criteria. The first and foremost is "using a camera and photographs to gather information". More than seventy five works from the first, second and third generation of photorealist artists have been selected for the show.
The first section Reflections of America, includes works from the first generation of American artists like Charles Bell, Robert Bechtle, John Baeder, Richard Estes, Ron Kleemann and more. The themes are centered around Americana in the sixties: diners, gas stations, neon signs, cars, trains... Each artist is represented by several paintings which highlight their style like Estes's reflections in storefronts, Bell's toys and pinball machines or Baeder's diners. The erasure of all signs of life in the compositions is remarkable. The streets are clean, the buildings are flawless and the shiny cars or motorcycles have never been used. The works depict a perfect middle class world, a distorted reality fit for an advertisement. Even Randy Dudley's industrial landscapes made in the late 90's or 2000's are sanitized. The next area, Idyllic Landscapes, involves a younger generation of international artists who embraced photorealism in their practice. The paintings of Piazza San Marco, 2010, from Raphaella Spence or Le Pont au Change, 2006, from Bertrand Meniel look like detailed postcards representing lifeless scenes including tourists. The Western landscapes from Richard McLean bring us back to America with several views of stereotyped pastoral Western landscapes filled with cowboy hats, horses and ranches. Across, several periods of Don Eddy's work are displayed with a store window, a paradisiac island and several of his latest airbrushed landscapes spread on multiple canvasses. He is followed by the English artist Ben Johnson whose practice focuses on architecture and the reconstruction of reality, piece by piece, rejecting human interference in his compositions.
Chuck Close's portraits are taking over the last area dedicated to The Human Figure. Since the late sixties, the artist has concentrated on the genre perfecting a unique technique to represent himself or his friends. In the same area, So Yeon, 2012, from Hyung Jin Park clashes with Close's pixelated renditions. His image of  a half-face creates mystery while the unnatural softness of the skin, the creases of the lips, the replication of the smallest details, reflects a search for human perfection. This is also DeAndrea's goal with his Seated Blonde, 1982, the only sculpture included in the exhibition. In Sweet Tooth, 1988, D. J. Hall catches the happiness of the moment through the commercial smile of a mother-daughter pair surrounded by sun, sand and sea. Yigal Ozeri veers toward romanticism in his composition Untitled: Megan and Olga in the Park, 2010 and Ben Schonzeit toward advertisement in Honey Tangerines, 1974, and Aubergine, 2009.
Due to the number and variety of artists, from a younger generation like Roberto Bernardi to classic masters like Bell or Estes, and the number of works included in the exhibition, the visitor will get a historical perspective of photorealism.
Along the visit, one realizes that photorealism is not only realist, it is also idealist in its search for perfection.

photographs by the author:

"Tony's (Colorado Springs)", 1980, John Bader
"M. Raphael Silver", 1975, Don Eddy
"Seated Blonde", 1982, John DeAndrea
"Cat's Eye and the Best of 'Em", 1993, Charles Bell

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