Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the 21c Museum on West Main Street for the first time. The Museum has modern written all over it, from the high white walls to the steel accents to the high-gloss wood floors. Loving contemporary art as I do, I was pleasantly overwhelmed by the plethora of images in which to bask in this space.
One of the most striking installations in 21c’s Creating Identity: Portraits Today exhibition is the set of seven photographs by Loretta Lux. Lux is a fine art photographer known for what can safely be described as surreal portraits of young children. The surreal quality comes partly from the absolute cleanness of line in the photographs, a wondrous clarity that can clearly only emerge from computer manipulation. The photographs also have backgrounds that have been inserted, skies of an incredible blue or walls of an eerily reflective white.
However, it is not so much the “surrealness” of the photographs that rivets me, although certainly that is part of their appeal. Lux almost exclusively photographs children, and like her precursor Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), she captures their spirit in a haunting way.
For example, in the photograph “The Bride,” a red-haired girl in premature wedding garb gazes directly into the camera, hands clasped over her heart. But her face is what is so arresting – chin thrust out, eyes solemn. Her posture is loose and relaxed, and yet the angle of her chin lets the viewer know that this calm girl is not to be trifled with. (View this photograph at www.lorettalux.de/ - Works III – The Bride)
The photograph “Three Wishes” shows the viewer the profile of a girl in a red sweater, hands together as if playing a clapping game, or carefully smashing an insect. Here again, the face is the most striking aspect of the picture – concentrated on her fingers, as if what she is holding is of the utmost importance. (View this photograph at www.lorettalux.de/ - Works II – Three Wishes)
Connections between undeniably modern, manipulated portraits and portraits from the long-ago are always intriguing to discover. There are trace lines you can feel, veins and arteries that pump the blood of the past into the now. So it is that I discovered in the Filson Special Collections a set of six portraits of children, two young boys in blue suits and four young girls in dresses. These Love Family portraits, painted in 1810 by Samuel H. Dearborn, are combined onto one mat and frame, and all of the portraits are in profile, except for one girl, who turns her head and smiles at the viewer. The profiles of the children are high-contrast, a perfect sinuous tracing of noses and chins on a cream background. All of the children are calmly poised, and in their unnatural gravity we can glimpse a hint of the surreal quality embedded in Lux’s work.
To find out more about the 21c Museum, visit http://www.21cmuseum.org/museum/default.aspx. You can discover more about the Filson Collections at http://www.filsonhistorical.org/collections-and-exhibits.aspx.