Sir Charles, Alias Willie Harris / By Barkley Hendricks (born 1945) / Oil on canvas, 1972 / National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; William C. Whitney Foundation

Sir Charles, Alias Willie Harris / By Barkley Hendricks (born 1945) / Oil on canvas, 1972 / National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; William C. Whitney Foundation

Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction

April 18, 2014 - January 11, 2015

“Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction” featured mid-twentieth century artists who were reinventing portraiture at a moment when most agreed that figuration was dead as a progressive art form. Chuck Close recalled that during this time, “the dumbest, most moribund, out-of-date, and shopworn of possible things you could do was to make a portrait.” And yet, with startling freshness and a touch of defiance, a group of young artists demonstrated the value of exploring the face and figure.

With more than fifty paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture from approximately 1945 to 1975, “Face Value” highlighted the innovations of American portraiture hiding behind the vogue for abstraction. Artists such as Alice Neel, Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Beauford Delaney, Alex Katz, Romare Bearden, Fairfield Porter, Jamie Wyeth, and Andy Warhol, along with lesser-known artists, pushed the boundaries of portrait traditions. Inspired by the theories and ambitions of the Abstract Expressionists and keenly attuned to the themes of their own turbulent times, they reinterpreted human portrayal, reinventing portraiture for the next generation.

“Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction” was made possible by the following generous donors:

  • The Abraham and Virginia Weiss Charitable Trust
  • Amy and Marc Meadows
  • The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts Inc.
  • Donald A. Capoccia and Tommie Pegues

Additional support provided by:

  • Patricia Stonesifer and Michael Kinsley
  • The Paul M. and Christine G. Wick Fund
  • Ella M. Foshay
  • Pat and Walter Moore

 

  • John Ashbery (Argyle Socks) / By Fairfield Porter (1907–1975) / Oil on canvas, 1952 / Collection The Flow Chart Foundation. Courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York

    John Ashbery (Argyle Socks) / By Fairfield Porter (1907–1975) / Oil on canvas, 1952 / Collection The Flow Chart Foundation. Courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York

  • Lisa Bigelow born 1930 / By Alfred Leslie (born 1927) / Synthetic polymer on canvas, 1964–66 / Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, 80.107. Purchased with the aid of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts © Alfred Leslie / Photograph by Michael Cavanagh and Kevin Montague

    Lisa Bigelow, born 1930 / By Alfred Leslie (born 1927) / Synthetic polymer on canvas, 1964–66 / Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, 80.107. Purchased with the aid of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts © Alfred Leslie / Photograph by Michael Cavanagh and Kevin Montague

  • Self-Portrait with Fish and Cat / By Joan Brown (1938–1990) / Oil enamel on Masonite, 1970 / Courtesy of George Adams Gallery, New York / © Estate of Joan Brown

    Self-Portrait with Fish and Cat / By Joan Brown (1938–1990) / Oil enamel on Masonite, 1970 / Courtesy of George Adams Gallery, New York / © Estate of Joan Brown

  • Sir Charles, Alias Willie Harris / By Barkley Hendricks (born 1945) / Oil on canvas, 1972 / National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; William C. Whitney Foundation

    Sir Charles, Alias Willie Harris / By Barkley Hendricks (born 1945) / Oil on canvas, 1972 / National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; William C. Whitney Foundation

Cover of "Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction" with a painted portrait of a woman holding a fish

Face Value features mid-twentieth-century artists who were reinventing portraiture at a moment when everyone agreed that figuration was dead as a progressive art form.