The Figure in Contemporary Art: Whitney Museum edition.

Glenn Ligon, Self-Portrait, 1996. This screen print definitely has to be seen in person to be appreciated. It’s heavily pixelated and provides a similar experience to viewing Chuck Close’s work. At a distance, the image looks perfect, yet as you get closer the process and its flaws become more apparent. (Courtesy the Whitney Museum).

A recent visit to the Whitney Museum of American Art earlier this month for the opening of the Glenn Ligon show turned up a large selection of works for my series on the Figure in Contemporary Art (check out parts One, Two, and Three). While I was there, I also saw Legacy: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection, housed in the Emily Fisher Landau galleries. While trying to soak in the art, I kept finding myself listening to old rich patrons talk about pieces they would buy. Thankfully, amid the market talk, I did manage to find exactly what this series needed: quality art examining the figure in many different manners, from many different voices. As I wrapped up my viewing experience at the museum, the upper-crust were downstairs trying to get down to Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back. I knew then that it was time to get back to Brooklyn.

Glenn Ligon, Notes on the Margin of the Black Book, 1991-1993. Courtesy the Whitney. This installation combines photographs from Robert Mapplethorpe’s Black Book, which consists of photographs of black male nudes, paired with commentary that the piece generated. Incorporating art criticism directly into an artwork can be overly heady, yet Ligon pulls it off. (Image courtesy of the Whitney.)

Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (Beckoning Bus Driver), 2001-2. Crewdson creates expertly produced and highly narrative photographs of small town life. While looking at his works, I was struck by his ability to cram so much plot into a single frame. (Image from the Whitney’s website.)

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Klaus Barbie as a Family Man), 1988. When imagining Klaus Barbie, one might think of horrible imagery from the Holocaust, Hitler and torture. Gonzalez-Torres knows that urge, yet offers another view: the Butcher of Lyon as family man. It’s easy to write off villains as purely evil — this image turns Barbie into a more ambiguous figure. (Image from Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis’ website.)

Eric Fischl, Emptying of the Estuary, 1993. Fischl presents us with a concise evolution of the female nude in art history and culture. All I can say is that when the sunglasses-wearing woman’s gaze hits the side of my face, it hits it hard. (Image from the Whitney’s website.)

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