For a long time now, artists have been stealing faces. Portraiture, whether sculptural, painted or printed, is theft. Even when a portrait shows a likeness, that face is often there to represent a larger truth or deliver a different message.
About Face at Gallery 339 takes aim at the human face—in black-and-white and color photographs by 25 artists—and forms a small congregation on the walls. Beautiful and compelling, moody, funny or poetic, the images are not in the least abstract but they are all conceptual, asking, “What’s in a face?”
The first thing you see when you enter the gallery is a wall of predominately sober images. Donald Camp’s ghostly photo with raw earth pigment, “Captain,” is a grainy, close-cropped image of a man staring up at you over the rim of his glasses. In Phillip Toledano’s digital print “me and dad,” dad is an elderly man who appears close to death. There’s a gaunt and haunted-looking Andy Warhol, pictured by Neil Winokur in a 1982 Cibachrome print, whose blue background is eerily evocative of the void. The wall’s anchor piece is Andrea Modica’s platinum/palladium print of a skull sitting on what looks like a corrugated cardboard table top. The picture’s title, “Colorado Springs, CO (A15, Male, 56 years old)” implies that the skull is a specimen of some unknown and unnamed person.
This wall has a playful image, too, and several are lyrical without being mournful. A Facebook-like profile photo of “Grant,” a smiling young man by Davin Youngs, is positively ebullient. Richard Renaldi’s “Cory” almost jumps off the wall. The small gelatin silver print of a young man in profile radiates a life lived intensely. Paul Cava’s pigment print, “Denise (New Mexico),” and Jason Robinette’s archival pigment print, “Untitled 13,” both exude yearning and old-fashioned beauty.
There’s plenty more in the exhibit, lots of it magical. Caitlin Price’s “Leslie” is an archival pigment print that captures a woman in a forbidding space—a dark shadowy zone under a cloverleaf highway overpass—her face illuminated by an oval of bright light that catches only her facial features as she stares down and away. It’s a weird and cinematic portrayal, whose celestial beam of light is echoed in Modica’s “Oneonta Yankee, Kent Wallace,” another face lit by a mystery light. David Graham’s print portrait of Elijah Wood is not really a portrait but a street scene of two wheat-pasted posters for the movie Everything Is Illuminated . Time and weather have eaten away at the posters, but like in the Picture of Dorian Gray , Wood’s youthful looks remain intact.
Whether intended or not, the wide range of shooting styles and approaches—from gelatin silver prints by Yuichi Hibi to screen grabs of a web project by Jen Davis—conveys the vibrancy of photography today. The show is a summer refresher—on a warm day the gallery’s cool ambiance is welcoming and the faces engaging. For a winning double header, pair this photo exhibit with a trip to the Art Museum’s “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus,” and consider how photography has stolen portraiture—and faces—from contemporary painting.
Through Sept. 10. Gallery 339, 339 S. 21st St. 215.731.1530. gallery339.com
Calendar: Sept. 2-9