The new exhibit at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, "Aspects of Portraiture," is divided into three categories: traditional portraiture, symbolic portraiture and narrative portraiture. But the exhibit shows that even within the categories, there are categories.
Four charming traditional portraits of Roxbury sculptor Alexander Calder show different aspects of one man. One, taken in 1975 by Pedro Guerrero, shows Calder smiling in a ratty straw hat. In "Last Photograph of Calder," a 1975 photo by Calder's neighbor and friend, Inge Morath, he glares at the camera, silently ordering Morath to go away. In Morath's 1964 "Calder with Maquette for Stabile with Gunrest," he proudly presents his creation, a field full of cows in the background. In Morath's "Calder at Roxbury, 1969," he hides behind one of his sculptures.
The show is the final exhibit that will be curated by outgoing Director Susan Talbott. The work is drawn from the Atheneum's permanent collection, with a special emphasis on artists who have participated in the museum's 40-year MATRIX program for emerging artists.
Photographs of artists and curators predominate in the exhibit, which stretches into three galleries off of Avery Court. Arthur Mones portraits of Willem de Kooning, George Segal, Romare Bearden and Robert Motherwell hang near a more local art figure, a portrait of former Atheneum curator Andrea Miller-Keller by Ellen Carey. A charming 1981 diptych by Eve Sonnenman of her gallerist, Julian Pretto, hangs across the gallery from Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' large-scale depiction of his friend, artist Kara Walker.
Symbolic portraits are dominated by Christian Jankowski's fun, six-part "MATRIX Effect" series, showing children posing as legendary artists. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are portrayed by a very proper boy and younger girl, Sol LeWitt by a bespectacled blond boy, Janine Antoni by a surly-looking teen and Dawoud Bey by a very serious African-American boy. Four symbolic portraits by Patti Smith show Virginia Woolf's bed, Arthur Rimbaud's utensils, Robert Mapplethorpe's slippers and her own daughter Jesse's hands. James Welling shows his devotion to Andrew Wyeth by photographing Wyeth's pigments against a very Wyeth-like light-filled window.
Narrative portraits are the most heart-rending, primarily Christian Boltanski's "Gymnasium Chases," a manipulation of school portraits taken at a Jewish high school in Vienna in 1931. Alfredo Jaar's portrait of a scavenger at a Brazilian gold mine gives the dirt-smudged youth real character. Adrian Piper's "A Tale of Avarice and Poverty" shows a photo of a beautiful, light-skinned African-American woman, and tells that woman's sad story of her failures as a parent.
"DIRECTOR'S CHOICE: ASPECTS OF PORTRAITURE: PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE WADSWORTH ATHENEUM" will be at the museum, 600 Main St. in Hartford, until Dec. 13. Susan Talbott will give a talk and walk-through at noon on Sept. 24. thewadsworth.org.