Rather than rendering faces and the figure in a realistic manner, the artists included in this exhibition chose to create constructed characters to explore how we navigate through personal and cultural experiences. Character Studies brings together figurative works from the MMFA’s permanent collection that are cartoon-like, caricatures, or even grotesque in style to question, and sometimes emphasize, the characteristics and emotions that make us human.
For example, working with the human figure enabled artist Philip Guston (American, 1913–1980) to craft a narrative while evoking a sense of the surreal and the comical. Through cartoon-like figures he told stories rich in meaning, often touching on the absurd and, sometimes, on the nightmarish. In his lithograph Curtain (1980), the odd, disembodied heads form a strange landscape under a parted curtain and perhaps allude to the importance of looking past the facade to the reality “behind the curtain” in any situation.
In contrast, Red Grooms (American, born 1937) created mixed-media pieces that he termed “sculpto-pictoramas” to portray the colorful diversity and swirling energy found in the city. The bold and raucous three-dimensional lithograph Deli (2004), recreates the bustling energy of a popular and crowded New York eatery, “Red & Bud’s Midtown Deli.” With his trademark sense of humor and comic book-inspired style, Grooms parodied the various characters of the city. These artists, along with the others featured in Character Studies, portray the figure in imaginative ways; their lighthearted approach draws us into pointed commentaries on our world.
These artists, along with the others featured in Character Studies, portray the figure in imaginative ways; their lighthearted approach draws us into pointed commentaries on our world.
Organized by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama.
This exhibition was made possible in part by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts