This compelling portrait of a Baltimore toddler picking berries from a surreally-scaled goblet is an icon of the American vernacular painting. Joshua Johnson, who was self taught, is the earliest known African American painter to make his living from his art. Emma Van Name (1805) is his most ambitious and engaging portrait of an individual child. Revealing the hallmarks of Johnson’s characteristic style in its naturalistic precision and imaginative flair, the painting is distinguished by a bravura demonstration of his talents in its nuanced palette, compositional complexity, and deft handling of details, especially in the child’s dress and demeanor.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Modjesko was a popular drag performer in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century. Art critic, Félix Fénéon, included this portrait in several exhibitions at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, including the group show Portraits of Men. In 1909, he signed artist Kees van Dongen to a seven-year contract. Both anarchists, van Dongen and Fénéon shared a desire to advocate for the rights of socially marginalized people.
Modjesko, Soprano Singer (1908) was Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
John I. H. Bauer, head of the Brooklyn Museum‘s Department of painting and sculpture from 1936 to 1952, here appears seated in an interior space, perhaps his office. His body, cropped at the head and ankle, fills the frame. Painted in 1974, Alice Neel captured idiosyncrasies such as his slightly rumpled suit, wrinkled face, and veiny hands. One of her guiding principles as a portraitist was, in her words, that “every person is a new universe unique with its own laws.“
In March of 2019, I attended a fun event-thing called the Barbie 60th Anniversary Pop-Up Experience, which was just insane. Imagine being wedged into a crowded labyrinth of bright lights, neon colors, and every type of Barbie-branded doll in the universe, including Gender-Nonconforming Barbie and Dad-Bod Ken. Now, add little kids with their parents, and millennial Instagram-whores, and you’re got an idea of the scenario that I consider myself lucky to have survived with my sanity intact. Still: super fun!
While I saw literally hundreds of Barbies that day, the one that I will surely never forget is this Pink Mink Stole-draped plastic goddess known as the Andy Warhol Barbie. Here’s why: this Barbie (the third such doll produced in collaboration with The Andy Warhol Foundation) is the definitive celebration of Warhol, drawing inspiration from the original Warhol Barbie portrait created by the artist in 1986. Barbie’s strapless gown features a sweetheart neckline and an overall print of the Warhol Barbie Portrait (you can see a few details of Barbie’s face on the dress if you look closely at the above photo). Beyond the fabulous Pink faux fur stole with blue lining, the doll’s accessories also include blue pumps accented with glitter inspired by Warhol’s technique of “diamond dust” crushed glass on canvas, earrings, necklace, ring and doll stand. Rad.
Sadly I could not capture details of the glittery shoes, as Andy Warhol Barbie was encased in a vitrine, to protect her from molestation. The statement to the left of Barbie’s face in the above photo reads as follows:
Andy Warhol made his mark by creating images of American icons. Barbie was added to the list when Warhol painted her in 1986. The first Barbie portrait was reportedly inspired by Warhol’s muse, Billy Boy, a jewelry designer and member of new York downtown scene in the 1980s, who owned a vast collection of Barbie dolls.
The High Line always seems to have new public art installed along its mile-plus length of green space, and Five Conversations by Tanzanian-born artist Lubaina Himid, although it has been up since April, was new to me as I walked south along the path on my way to the Whitney Museum one sweltering Sunday afternoon.
For Five Conversations, Himid introduces five wooden doors reclaimed from traditional Georgian townhouses, painted with life-size portraits, cut into silhouettes, that stand freely as flat sculptures. The portraits depict everyday, stylish women who love talking to each other!
These works have a theatrical quality, referencing stage sets and the simplified histories that dominate our world. In her signature way, Himid brings the two-dimensional medium of painting into our three-dimensional world.
Part of the En Plein Air, a Group Exhibit that Examines and Expands the Tradition of Outdoor Painting, On View Through March 2020.
Chicago-based surrealist Gertrude Abercrombie (1909 – 1977) was acclaimed for her enigmatic paintings of stark interiors and illusory landscapes. On first glance, Self Portrait As My Sister (1941) appears to be relatively straight-forward representation, lacking the idiosyncratic imagery of her complex, dreamlike works. But Abercrombie was an only child, and the title’s allusion to a sister heightens the paradox of the painting. She frequently used self-portraiture as a means of trying on new guises and personas, later observing, “It’s always myself that I paint, but not actually, because I don’t look that good or cute.” Indeed, in her records she referred to this work as “Portrait of Artist as Ideal.” Her reference to a fictitious and prettier sister hints at desire to be a different person, a longing she could satisfy through her painting.
Luigi Lucioni and Paul Cadmus probably met as students, and they doubtless shared acquaintances within New York’s circles of gay artists and writers. Lucioni’s likeness of Cadmus (1928) celebrated the shared passion of two young moderns for the ideal forms of Italian Renaissance art, particularly the paintings of Piero della Francesca. Within a modern close-up format, the artist captured a gaze that is at once tentative and mesmerizing.
Over the course of a career that stretched from the 1920s to the 1980s, Alice Neel painted portraits of hundreds of friends, family members, lovers, artists art historians, writers, and political activists, believing that “people are the greatest and profoundest key to an era.” Seeking to express psychology above absolute physical likeness, she often used exaggerated colors and expressive brushstrokes and eliminated extraneous details in order to capture the inner lives of her subjects.
Neel was a longtime supporter of leftist causes. In the painting of Pat Whalen (1935), she depicts the Communist activist and union organizer for the longshoremen of Baltimore as a paragon of social justice. Whalen’s creased face and expression — along with a copy of the Daily Worker, the official newspaper of the Communist Party USA, resting beneath his large, clenched — suggest both a noble archetype of the blue-collar worker and an all-consuming commitment to the working man’s cause.
German painter Otto Dix portrayed his subjects with a hard-edged, detached realism, accentuating unattractive features and signs of age. Since this portarit, The Businessman Max Roesberg, Dresden (1922) was a commission, his treatment of his subject was rather kind. Dix highlights Roesberg’s business prowess — which was short-lived — in several ways. The room is cluttered with materials central to a productive professional practice, such as a telephone, calendar, and tools for correspondence,while the palette of greens and blues alludes to rh coorof money. Moreover, Roesberg’s body is almost completely obscured by his business suit — a mark of his professional identity.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
A powerful rendering by the artist in her twenties, this picture was made with a practical purpose; it was painted as a reception piece for admission to the life-drawing course at the National Academy of Design. While Lee Krasner (1908 – 1984) is best known for the personal style that she developed within the movement of Abstract Expressionism in the 19540s, this self portrait (c. 1930) is a rare example of her early work, using the thick brushwork and high color of the Impressionists and Realists of the previous generation. Strikingly, Krasner depicts herself at work in nature. She eyes the viewer, who stands on the spot where, presumably, a mirror hangs on a tree. Her expression and strong handling of light and shade evoke the resolve of a young woman rising to the challenge of her artistic vocation.