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After a year of absent faces, The Grinnell College Museum of Art introduces “Face Forward”

Catherine Opie’s “Bo” was recently acquired by the College. Photo Contributed by The Grinnell College Museum of Art.

The Grinnell College Museum of Art is welcoming students, faculty and staff to visit its newest exhibit: “Face Forward.” “Face Forward” is a study in portraiture, exclusively showing pieces pulled from Grinnell’s permanent collection.

“It’s been a year of absent faces,” said Daniel Strong, associate director and curator of exhibitions at the Grinnell College Museum of Art. Looking to provide those face-to-face connections found lacking in the last year of quarantine, Strong turned to the diverse works of portraiture held in Grinnell’s permanent collection. Of the photos, paintings and prints exhibited in “Face Forward,” many have been in the College’s collection for years—familiar faces to regular patrons of the museum. Others were recent acquisitions, including “Bo,” by Catherine Opie, acquired in 2021 (pictured below).

While the College has limited activity levels on campus in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Grinnell College Museum of Art is accessible to approved students, faculty and staff.

James Gobel’s “Now is Enough.” For those who cannot visit the exhibit in person, associate director and curator of exhibitions Daniel Strong has designed an interactive website. Photo contributed by The Grinnell College Museum of Art.

To accommodate community health guidelines and create a place where visitors feel safe to appreciate art, the exhibition space in Bucksbaum has been transformed into a bright, open and airy gallery with art hung primarily on the perimeter walls. “We want it to be a space of respite, of relaxation,” Strong said.

To schedule an appointment to view the exhibit, make a reservation on the event platform 25Live during the museum’s open hours: Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5:00 p.m.

For anyone who isn’t in Grinnell or who can’t visit the gallery in person, Strong has designed a crisp new website to view the exhibit in full. For students of ART 103: Introduction to Art History, the virtual exhibition has been an opportunity to consume new art.

Professor Jenny Anger, art history, begins her course every year with a unit on portraiture. “We’ve never had the chance to interact with portraiture exhibitions like we have now, and it’s just wonderful. It’s fortuitous for us that there are all these amazing portraits to look at and deal with,” Anger said.

Students in Anger’s class are tasked with examining the impact of light, color and shape on the viewer’s impression of the figure in the piece. Beyond viewing the portraits as solitary pieces, Anger has included a study of the works of art alongside one another, prompting the particular placement of multiple pieces in the exhibition space.

One aspect of the art that needed to be adjusted for the virtual audience was the size of these pieces.

“Scale is a big issue when working with works of art in person,” said Strong. This statement is epitomized by the two pieces: “Jonas II” by Charles Bierk and “Milo 2” by Loretta Lux. Appearing to be identical in size when aligned on the website, Bierk’s 70” by 60” painting physically diminishes Lux’s 12” by 12” print, demanding a very different impression by the viewer in-person than one elicited from the screen.

Next to each other in the exhibit, Loretta Lux’s “Milo 2” and Charles Bierk’s “Jonas II” (left to right) illustrate the importance of scale in portraiture. Photo contributed by The Grinnell College Museum of Art.

“Face Forward” will be exhibited in the Grinnell College Museum of Art Feb. 2 through April 11, with sections of the exhibit possibly remaining through May 28.

“Face Forward” is not the only exhibition the museum has planned, though.

During the final five weeks of the semester, the museum will be showing BAX: the Bachelor of Arts Exhibition. Planned largely by the Studio Art SEPC, BAX showcases work by third- and fourth-year students. As virtual classes continue, there will likely be both onsite and virtual aspects to the exhibit.

This year’s summer exhibition, titled “Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award,” will be open June 25 through Aug. 22.

“Queer Dialogue,” an exhibit that has been postponed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will open in the Museum of Art in the Fall of 2021. With work by artists and activists in the LGBTQ+ community, the exhibit will include several pieces currently on display in “Face Forward,” so don’t be surprised to see a few familiar faces next fall.

To accommodate community health guidelines, The Grinnell College Museum of Art has worked to make the gallery space more open and airy. Photo contributed by The Grinnell College Museum of Art.
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Nadia Langley, Editor in Chief
Nadia Langley is a fourth year majoring in history and French. Her favorite historical French quote is: "Literally I didn't say that, that's so cray," -- Marie Antoinette, 1793.
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