The show focuses first on three renowned artists who worked productively at Crown Point: Chuck Close, Richard Diebenkorn and John Cage, who perhaps deserves to be more revered as a visual artist than he is as a composer. Then the show expands to other artists, some of whom echo the paths taken by Close, Diebenkorn and Cage, others who have developed different ways to negotiate the yes, no and maybe of the artistic process.
It is a loose and sometimes fanciful way to organize a show, and the catalogue essay, which compares a Polaroid snapshot of Chuck Close to one of Goya’s most powerful etchings, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” strays into purple prose and strained analogies. But the premise is strong, the work appealing and the juxtapositions telling. Particularly impressive is the success with which the curators elucidate the “no,” the work that failed to meet the artist’s standards. In most cases, the artist would hide this, but Close has allowed some of his rejected work to be seen in multiple iterations, which is fascinating.
And it is Close who emerges as the most provocative of the three major artists represented. Close’s work has long focused on the dispassionate geography of the human face, the surface data of unsentimental portraiture. At Crown Point, he has experimented with particularly difficult technical challenges, the creation of a large-scale mezzotint from a black-and-white head shot of a man named “Keith,” and the use of woodblock printing to replicate a watercolor of a woman named “Leslie,” Close’s wife at the time. In another project, based on a self-portrait, he attempts to collage together different images that represent stages in the three-color separation process of printing.
In his painted work, Close has meticulously built up photo-realist images by layering red, blue and then yellow, until a fully colored work emerges, thus replicating the separation process of color printing. In some of his printed work, he attempts to highlight the wonderful absurdity and virtuosity of this meticulous process of photo-realist painting, allowing the various stages of color separation to commingle, with patches of red, blue and purple, or a collaged and lurid riot of different prints that bring brilliant yellows and greens and blues into painful proximity.