Sunday, July 11, 2010

Recommended: Chuck Close at the Corcoran

If you've been to a Chuck Close exhibit, you might think you can skip this one -- you've already seen his arresting, giant portraits, mostly of himself, astonishingly rendered in pointillistic cubes that individually give away nothing of how they create such a lifelike image in the aggregate.

Don't skip this one.

The Corcoran lets you in on Close's media and methods, deconstructing the process. But instead of defusing the impact of the results, the added context only makes them more mind-boggling and stunning.

Here's a sampling of the portraiture methods on display in the Corcoran's compact exhibit: paper pulp, lithograph, woodcut, rug, silk screen, silk-screened paper viewable only via a stainless steel cylinder about 10 inches high, etching, oil on canvas.

Even if you're not into the details of how lithographs work or what chemicals are used in printmaking -- which are plentiful here -- you'll still be blown away by how Close manages to make the same image new, over and over again, by using different processes.

His variations on Philip Glass, just as musical as anything the composer could dream up, include portraits comprised entirely of fingerprints and a lush collection of paper pulp scraps. The plastic grill used to make the paper pulp portrait, seen above, functions just as much like a work of art as the actual piece it was used to create. Another highlight is Close's self-portrait composed of pencil squiggles in 12 separate colors, all overlaid on top of one another.

Close's work is often described as photorealistic, but his images are somehow more evocative and real than photo or flesh. This exhibit exposes the technical side of that achievement, but the mystery and genius of Close's vision remains intact.

Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration
Corcoran Gallery of Art
500 17th St. NW
Admission $10, free on Saturdays in summer
Through Sept. 12, 2010

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