Iowa Alumni Magazine | October 2005 | Reviews

Face First, a UI Museum of Art Exhibit

By Tina Owen
A portrait show offers the ultimate people-watching experience.

Young, tousled, and dripping with self-confidence and sex appeal, Mick Jagger casts an arrogant “Ignore me if you can” look over his left shoulder.

Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, silkscreen, 1975 museum purchase

The rebellious Rolling Stone, one of the stars in a current exhibit at the UI Museum of Art, confirms what we already know—people love to look at other people. Drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, the 50 paintings in “Portraits: Mind, Body and Soul” represent the work of 43 international artists.

Athletes, children, artists, movie stars, and more look back from the walls of the Hoover-Paul Gallery. Some meet the viewer’s gaze head-on; others stare off to the side, out of the confines of the painting, sketch, or photograph, inspiring curiosity about the invisible objects that hold their attention.

Arranged chronologically, the portraits chart developments in artistic styles, as well as offering glimpses into the times and cultures in which the artists lived. A Flemish emperor and empress pose stiffly in the rigid high collars and voluminous clothes of the 17th century. In a few lines, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec recreates the unmistakable flamboyance of a 19th century Parisian nightclub. Actress Agnes Moorehead, in dramatic 1950s Hollywood movie star pose, stares snootily at the comic antics of fellow thespians Jimmy Durante and Danny Thomas in two adjacent black-and-white photographs.

In several self-portraits, artists put themselves in the sitter’s shoes. “It’s a lot of fun to try and figure out what an artist thought about him or herself,” says curator Kathleen Edwards.

Some works—such as the 17th century The Sudarium of Saint Veronica, which creates a portrait of Jesus through the skilled use of an engraving tool—are notable for their technical virtuosity. Others, like Andy Warhol’s 1975 silkscreen of Jagger, convey the mood of an era. All of them strive to express the elusive quality of the human spirit—the petulant, bored gaze of a child forced to sit for a portrait; the quirky artist who tucks his pug dog under his chin and draws both faces with equal dedication; the hint of desolation as Edvard Munch slumps over a wine bottle.

“A portrait is simultaneously about a subject’s—and an artist’s—individuality, the culture from which they arose, and the consciousness of the viewer,” says Edwards. Perhaps the best of them inspire more than curiosity about the artist and the subject; through a shared link of humanity, they encourage viewers to turn their gazes inwards.