Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Portraiture and Great Art?

A post from John Marciari, Curator of European Art at the San Diego Museum of Art:

My post last week offered a few thoughts about the magic of the Giorgione portrait here in San Diego. On the heels of writing that, however, I read an article by Michael Archer that argued that Portrait art has never been more pointless. Archer's article is mainly about portraiture in contemporary art, but his view is so limited - if I were less diplomatic I might call it 'half baked and wholly objectionable' - that I can't help but return to the subject. One need only glance at the Giorgione or at the Marquis de Sofraga by Goya, another painting in San Diego that could hang in any museum anywhere in the world, to realize that there is a lot more to portraiture than Archer realizes with his interest in mere likeness and with "the figure in history."
Need one really know anything about Sofraga to be mesmerized by this picture?
Similarly, while knowledge of the back story of a figure's role in history can add to our appreciation of a photographic portrait by, say, Richard Avedon, is that knowledge really necessary to appreciate that work as great art? Our Avedon exhibition closes soon, on September 6th, but there is still time to have another look and to think not only about Avedon, but also about what makes great portraiture more generally.

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