Posted Dec 17, 2017 at 6:00 AMUpdated Dec 17, 2017 at 9:45 AM
Portraiture as an art form has endured for thousands of years, but you only have a few more weeks to see both older and new takes on it in the “People Watching: Then and Now” exhibition at Fitchburg Art Museum.
The show places a selection of painting and sculpture from FAM’s permanent collection, as well as objects from the Fitchburg Historical Society, next to works by 13 contemporary New England artists. The innovative and highly gratifying exhibition closes Jan. 14.
The show is part of the museum’s ongoing series of exhibitions of works by contemporary New England artists, and it’s also the third part of a series of shows FAM has done that brings the work of contemporary artists together with historical artists from the collection. Previous exhibitions in the series were “Land Ho!” two years ago, with a theme of landscapes, and “Still Life Lives” two years before that.
The concept of juxtaposing contemporary work with historical ones can be grasped immediately upon entering “People Watching,” with a gorgeous, very traditional John Singleton Copley portrait, Mrs. Charles McEvers (1771), to your left, and an installation of selfie-based portraits by Boston artist Nayda Cuevas directly across from the Copley.
The installation is a series of small, hand-painted portraits drawn from selfies Latino women posted on a blog, titled ”#Latina: ReclaimingTheLatinaTag.”
“The blog was started by a small group of women in California to counteract the hyper-sexualized images of women that appear when you search ‘Latina’ on the Internet,” FAM curator Lisa Crossman said. “Instead, they’re capturing themselves in a variety of ways so it’s really about sharing the rich diversity of women who fall under the Latina tag, and showing that they have many different accomplishments, different personalities, that they’re Mexican, they’re Peruvian, Puerto Rican.”
Since FAM’s portrait collection is not comprehensive, Crossman said that when she organized the show with curatorial fellow Lauren Szumita, they brought out works they thought would have a really nice dialogue with contemporary work, then built the contemporary section around their collection.
“I think it’s fun for people to make associations between the past and the present and then with this show I really was thinking of the historical pieces as being a jumping-off point for a conversation that is happening among the contemporary works as well,” Crossman said.
In an interesting twist, there are works for which contemporary artists used old technology, such as David Prifti’s series of tintype portraits, for which a subject might be required to sit for nearly an hour. “He uses a 19th-century technology, an interesting process, and there’s also an intimacy to these images,” Crossman said.
Tabitha Vevers also looked back in time to a historical period before photography when miniatures were a prized way of keeping images of loved ones near. Her take is decidedly modern, though. She has made a series of miniatures with each one showing only a single female eye. Her “Lover’s Eye” series is taken mainly from the eyes of women from historical works painted by male artists.
“People Watching” concludes the three shows FAM had promised when the “old meets new” concept was announced several years ago. The series has been so successful, however, that thought is being given to extending it for an additional show or shows, said Nicholas Capasso. What might be the theme, since still life, landscapes and, now, portraits have already been covered? “We’ll think of something,” he said.
In addition to Cuevas, Prifti and Vevers, contemporary artists whose work is on display in “People Watching” are Philip Brou, Susan White Brown, Caleb Cole, Leslie Graff, Lavaughan Jenkins, Lucy Kim, Steve Locke, Ross Normandin, Kate Russo and Ann Strassman.