CHUCK CLOSE AND BOB HOLMAN at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West), to September 16. $15, stu/srs $12. 416-979-6648. Rating: NNNN
Collaborative work between poets and painters isn't new. In 1968, for example, Frank O'Hara gave poems to his circle of artist friends to inspire drawings and paintings for an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.
Recently, Chuck Close , the late-20th-century master of portraiture, has collaborated with United States Of Poetry host Bob Holman and daguerreotype specialist Jerry Spagnoli on A Couple Of Ways Of Doing Something, a project documenting 20 New York artists.
They've made a collective portrait of East Coast contemporary art at the turn of this century, photographing some of the foremost art world figures of the last two generations.
Art stars Kiki Smith, Andres Serrano and Laurie Anderson are here, along with a disconcertingly unstylized Cindy Sherman. The new generation is represented by such artists as Cecily Brown, Ellen Gallagher and Lisa Yuskavage, making the show an a kind of New York family portrait. Most stunning is Close's own face, staring out with his trademark searing lucidity.
To shorten the daguerrotype exposure time of two or more minutes, each sitter was subjected to an almost hair-singeing flash of a billion footcandles of light. Each plate was then digitally scanned so it could be reprinted on an imposing scale. The results are turn-of-the-last-century photographs made current, combining the antiquated texture of the earliest photography with the immediacy of snapshot portraiture.
Each subject emerges from a sea of lush, velvety black to hold you in their gaze. The medium turns up the theatricality to an almost unforgiving intensity, the kind Close has always favoured in his portraiture.
So it works well that they are accompanied by Holman's playful neo-beat praise poems, which overflow both typographically and metaphorically in all directions, softening the New York edge with generous volubility. Placed next to each print, they form complementary visual and verbal portraits.
The smart and well-crafted combination of antique photography, contemporary faces and old-school, funky wordplay makes for a heady summer show.