Perspectives on American Figuration from the Permanent Collection
Faces in the Crowd is the second in a series of exhibitions showcasing the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College’s latest acquisitions of figurative American art. Approaching the concept of the human figure and its representation in art broadly, this exhibition continues to highlight the new principal collecting focus of the Museum’s permanent collection, one that addresses American figurative art as a subject unto its own in painting, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture.
From afar, the notion of a room — or a collection — full of works all on the theme of American figuration may seem limiting; it is exhibitions like Faces in the Crowd, however, that aim to prove otherwise. The title Faces in the Crowd hints at the diverse possibilities of the theme. In one sense, Faces in the Crowd alludes to both the potential anonymity of a given figure in American art but also at the potential specificity of a particular figure in American art. Just as we are all faces in the crowd of humanity, so too are the figures and artists who appear in this exhibition.
Each artist whose work is featured in Faces in the Crowd looks at the human figure in his or her own entirely individual way. Some figures are instantly recognizable by name, as is the case with portraits of well-known sitters by a contemporary artist like Hunt Slonem, thirty-four of whose portraits are now on long-term loan to the Museum. Take, for instance, Slonem’s large-scale painting of a certain Italian silent film star by the name of Valentino, which announces itself prominently in our gallery, or his portrait of a particularly familiar 45th president. Other “faces in the crowd” are recognizable in different ways, not because we as viewers know who they are by name, but rather merely by the fact that their faces are rendered crisply by their artists, thus individualizing the sitters as specific people.
Meanwhile, other “faces in the crowd” are more universalized — sometimes even face-less — offered to us by their artists as anymen or anywomen, providing common points of entry for explorations of the human condition. Artists like Robert Vickrey, Richard Segalman, and Will Barnet make the timelessly relatable figure the explicit subject of their work, and the Museum is proud to lay claim to many newly-acquired examples of all three artists’ work. In his 1986 Poster Wall, for instance, Vickrey places his little girl in a white hat with her back to the viewer, rendering her an un-seeable “face in the crowd,” urging us to visualize not only what she looks like and what she is thinking but also what expression she bears on her face.