Eye to I… 3,000 Years of Portraits, the new exhibit at the Katonah Museum of Art is a blockbuster worthy of the Met or the National Gallery. It includes 60 portraits by mostly well-known artists from several continents working in a variety of media from etching to oil, from sculpture to live and computerized images, from antiquity to the present.
If you’re thinking that’s a tall order for a non-collecting regional museum with just two small galleries. It is. But it works, and the exhibition is breathtaking, dramatic and seductive.
The exhibit has been marketed as an interactive experience. This refers to a touch-screen display of colorful icons, each showing an image of one of the works in the exhibit. Touching an icon calls up commentary by local personalities and some national authorities — some of it enlightening, some inspirational, some just institutional — and generally helpful notes from the curator. Visitors are encouraged to enter their own comments and notes.
The touch-screen driven kiosk is a delightful curiosity. It’s like looking out over Manhattan from the observation deck of the Empire State Building while using stereopticon images to validate the view. Fun, but not the real deal.
The power and drama of the exhibit is more subtle and ineluctable than what you’ll see in the touch-screen gallery. Walk through the exhibit slowly, devoting half a minute or more to each work of art. Once you stop trying to find a scheme — it’s not organized by artist, period, style, size, color, continent, media, owner, etc. — you’ll succumb to its power.
Like a portrait comprised of thousands of photographic images stitched together by color and size, without regard to origin, content, artist or period, the exhibit is a work of art! Art as art. Kudos to curator Ellen Keiter!
Eye to I is on display at the Katonah thru February 16, 2014. It includes 60 pieces by artists ranging from Diane Arbus to Andy Warhol, many from private collections and never before exhibited. You can preview the exhibit at http://eyetoi.org/, the online version of the touch-screen kiosk. Two of our favorites were Martine Franck’s photographic Portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Red Grooms’ sculpture Mondrian, a portrait of Piet Mondrian.
Go see it if you can.