September 2015


Chris Ofili, "Princess of the Posse," 1999, acrylic, collage, glitter, resin, map pins and elephant dung on canvas, 96 x 72". Collection SFMOMA, © Chris Ophili

Chris Ofili, “Princess of the Posse,” 1999, acrylic, collage, glitter, resin, map pins and elephant dung on canvas, 96 x 72″. Collection SFMOMA, © Chris Ophili

“Portraits and Other Likenesses,” which draws from the collection of SFMOMA, is an excellent selection of over fifty works covering a wide variety of mediums—sculpture, collage, multimedia, painting, photography, installation, prints and drawing—also samples genres over a wide swath of time, from early last century to the present. Working with a creative take on the idea of “portrait,” works span from more traditional painted and photographic likenesses of individuals to abstract symbolism. Individual pieces speak to identity, race relations, fashion, politics, social status and power. Artists from around the world are represented; the “portraits” are of people from a number of countries and cultures. Covering two floors, the show manages to hold together tightly and maintain a strong degree of quality consistency, quite a feat given the vast terrain covered.

Among the highlights are early twentieth century black-and-white photographs by James Van Der Zee and P. H. Polk. Chris Ophili’s large and glittery Princess of the Posse is propped against a wall near Kara Walker’s even larger graphite and pastel on paper figurative scene Daylights (after M. B.). Also of note is Kehinde Wiley’s Alexander the Great, a striking, intense and colorful image. Depicting pride and strength is Sargent Johnson’s Forever Free, a sculpture of a maternal figure protecting her children—this work was part of SFMOMA’s founding collection and was first on view when the museum opened, in 1934. On the more playful side is one of Nike Cave’s eclectic and fun soundsuits. Among the many other artists whose work should be closely considered are Glenn Ligon, Romare Beardon, Consuelo Kanaga, Mickalene Thomas, and David Hammons.

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"Tightrope TRAINing," 2015, acrylic on panel, 21 x 25”

“Tightrope TRAINing,” 2015, acrylic on panel, 21 x 25”

Paying homage to famous artists (both past and present); featuring humor and a magical dream-like quality; displaying exquisite detail, the new works by Spainish-based artist Pablo D’Antoni are absolutely delightful. Scale and shape play a key role in this new body of work: pieces range from half-inch round nail-heads to 3” x 24” horizontal panels and 2” x 48” “matchstick” panels, to more conventional mid-sized rectangular works (36” x 47”, 20” x 40”, etc.). This play with proportion contributes to how the works are read, as well as giving an almost fun-house feel to the show. The nail-head works—magnifying glasses are supplied in order to better see them—are homages to J.M.W. Turner, each one a miniature remaking of a landscape (and one self-portrait) by the painter. In addition to being a painter, D’Antoni is an art conservator. Perhaps this luring in of the viewer, requiring very up-close observation, is intended to mimic the very close attention needed to restore or conserve a work: in each case, one must become intimate with the piece.

The quoting of famous works, which is also seen in the horizontal pieces, references D’Antoni’s knowledge of art and art history. The long, narrow pieces each focus on one artist—Lautrec, Michelangelo, Banksy, among others—with several of that artist’s works recreated, sometimes with a funny twist: in the Van Eyck piece, the remake of Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy changes the stick the man is holding to a selfie stick, iPhone attached. These horizontals read like a book. On each side there are usually a couple of square panels featuring reproductions and then a central panel which depicts works hanging in a gallery-like space.

Another thread of influence in these works is surrealism. This is most apparent in the more conventionally proportioned works, which share with all the rest a similarity of great detail. Among them is Black Cat, which features four different styles of fishing boats floating against an almost pure white background, arranged along the bottom quarter of the panel. The boat on the right has a tall pole attached to its bow, which is topped with a seated fisherman who has another boat hanging from his fishing line. The strangeness opens the door to the imagination; the vast empty space inviting you to fill in a narrative. Visually, the restrained palette is soothing; compositionally, the work is well balanced. This painting is as rigorous as it is playful, as serious as it is fun.