Philharmonic Center for the Arts
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The Human Factor: Figuration in American Art
February 1 - March 24, 2000
The last quarter of the 20th century has witnessed a return to the human figure in art as a valid subject and an important vehicle for self-discovery and self-definition. The human figure had been a dominant subject in Western art until the abstract expressionist movement. With modern art, the image of man was transformed and distorted and almost disappeared as a subject. This selection of 50 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings provides a mini-survey of many aesthetics, issues and ideas contained within the figurative idiom of the United States over the past several decades.
Each artist uses the human figure as a common vehicle through which he or she expresses personal and aesthetic issues alluding to the human condition of our time. Among the artists represented are David Hockney, Chuck Close, Robert Rauschenberg, Keith Haring , George Segal, Susan Rothenberg, Romare Bearden, Alice Neel, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Gwathmey, David Salle, Eric Fischl and many others.
In his early 20s, during the Harlem Renaissance, Romare Bearden experienced first hand the diversity and community of artists, musicians, writers, poets, and filmmakers. Music played an important role in Bearden's art, specifically jazz and blues, as it developed as a uniquely American urban music among the New York City artists of the 1930s. Jazz's highly structured composition reflects Bearden's interest in mathematical organization (he earned a degree in Mathematics from NYU in 1935) as well as the looseness and improvisation of jazz music. (left: Romare Bearden (1914 - 1988), Jazz, 1979, hand colored photo etching)
Keith Haring's boldly outlined, energetic figures have become almost iconic in our society. His familiar images of dancing, radiant, cheerful figures pervaded pop culture of the 1980s and reflected Haring's successful combination of street art with gallery art. His images first showed up in 1980 in the Manhattan subway stations. He also designed stage sets, playground walls, T-shirts, record covers, logos, and even the sets of MTV. Born in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Haring moved to Manhattan when he was 20 in order to attend the School of Visual Arts. In his short lifetime, he had over 40 solo exhibitions worldwide. "I consider myself a perfect product of the space age not only because I was born in the year that the first man was launched into space, but also because I grew up with Walt Disney cartoons." One critic commented that his "hieroglyphics were like the markings of an urban tribe that we all belonged to." (left: Keith Haring (1958 - 1990), Untitled, 1985, color lithograph)
Minna Resnick's diptych uses the female form to express personal meaning. The two figures are in dichotomy with one another in color, in pose and in style. One figure confronts us with her gaze while we cannot even see the face of the opposing figure. This opposition continues much in the same way with Resnick's use of vivid color on one side juxtaposed with a monochromatic treatment on the other. The vulnerable yet guarded poses convey a personal narrative as well. Indeed, even the title suggests a personal meaning of the phrase "sitting pretty". Because Resnick provides us only with glimpses of a story, we are able to bring our own personal references to the piece to develop a dialogue with the image. (left: Minna Resnick (1946 - ), Sitting Pretty, 1993, lithograph (diptych))
The exhibition was organized by the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden.
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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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