Installation view of Artist’s Choice: Chuck Close, Head-On/The Modern Portrait at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Mali Olatunji

Conceived and installed by the American artist Chuck Close, Artist’s Choice: Chuck Close, Head-On/The Modern Portrait explores the various ways artists build portrait images and emphasizes the Museum’s role as a repository of visual information. In this highly unconventional exhibition, Close has chosen approximately 170 portraits, in various mediums, from the Museum’s collection and has arranged them in an extremely dense installation. This is the third in the Museum’s Artist’s Choice series, in which contemporary artists are invited to organize small shows based upon the Museum’s collection.

Covering virtually the entire wall space of one gallery on the Museum’s third floor, the exhibition incorporates works by modern masters alongside those of lesser-known artists. On one wall, paintings are mounted salon-style from floor to ceiling; on the surrounding walls, prints, photographs, and drawings are closely arranged on stacked shelves, one work overlapping the next. Eight portrait busts are also displayed in the installation, their varying scales adjusted by aligning the eye level of each figure.

The construction of the exhibition, in which the artist has built a complex field from a select repertoire of units, mirrors the process Close follows in making up his own art. By juxtaposing so many similar head-and-shoulder images, the installation also encourages the viewer to see what the artist calls the “syntax,” those systems of abstract marks or compositional strategies from which different portrait likenesses are made.

Additionally, by cutting across boundaries of medium, size, and so-called value, the exhibition alters the usual presentation of the Museum’s collection. As Mr. Varnedoe writes in the brochure accompanying the exhibition, “By abandoning the normal conventions of selective, well-spaced hanging, by which museums focus special attention on particular works, this show frees—and challenges—viewers to form their own hierarchies of choice and patterns of attention.”

Mr. Close states, “Certainly I tried to pick compelling, important images…portraits of people who were significant for the artist—either the artist himself or herself, family members, friends, or other artists. I tried to find what would have been for the artist an important image, as the subjects of my pictures are for me. But by slamming images together in juxtapositions the way I have, I tried to set up a situation which makes it more likely that viewers will also look at how the particular choices the artist made influence our experience of the subject.”

A video is being produced in conjunction with the exhibition and will be shown in the Museum’s Edward John Noble Education Center.

Organized in collaboration with Kirk Varnedoe, director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture.

The Artist’s Choice series is made possible by a generous grant from The Charles A. Dana Foundation.

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