The human head is the epicenter of thought, expression, and characterization, and has lent itself to an unmeasurable amount of focus and study in the art world. As of March 2nd, the Weatherspoon Art Museum opened an exhibition entitled, Head to Head, offering a look into different ways artists have explored three-dimensional depictions of a tremendously vast area of focus.
From stoic, to mysterious, to horrifying, from realistic, to abstract, to nearly unrecognizable, the sculptures differ the most in expression, yet the collection is fairly homogeneous in both the dates they were created and their relative size. The dates only range from a 1907 Pierre Matisse small, bronze bust of a child entitled, Téte d’enfant, to a 1995 sculpture by John Ahearn entitled, Trophy Head.
The exhibition is fairly rooted in realistic depictions of the human head, yet I found that the most interesting sculptures were the ones that shied away from the representational and explored a more abstract interpretation of the forms and shapes interacting with each other within the head. For example, Dutch painter, Willem de Kooning, an artist known best for his massive contribution to the abstract
expressionist movement, sculpts a head that parallels the wild, emotionally charged dripping and splashing of his paintings (his preferred and most attributed medium). While the cast bronze sculpture is far from a detailed rendition of a face, it has an accuracy that is more true to a feeling or a state of being than the
literal and physical elements emphasized in eras preceding the Abstract Expressionist movement. There is an agonizing gesture in the expression that the viewer has to work a bit harder to obtain, if being compared to a sculpture that tries to capture the “look” of a tortured expression.
The faces and heads elicit a bizarre sort of empathy from the viewer upon entering the gallery space. They are each representative of a controlled illusion, yet it remains difficult to acknowledge them as constructed works of bronze, marble, etc. Instead, I almost wanted to see them as actual people with actual uniqueness and personalities characterized by more than the expression of the artist’s model. This could be because I’m so used to working and looking at two-dimensional representations of humans, and the transition into three-dimensionality further pushed the illusion.
As i previously stated, the only major limitation of the exhibition
was the spectrum of dates in which the works were created. Artists
have been finding inventive ways to depict the human face and the
human head for centuries that are often very telling of the setting in
which the artwork is made, yet this exhibition limits itself to the
20th century. The collection could have definitely benefited from a
further contrast in time, but, overall, I found the diversity of the work captured the significance of such a widely studied focus.
The exhibition will be at the Weatherspoon until June 13th.