Luminaries is a show that, at first, seems to be in a state of confusion. Warhol next to Ulke?
Who wants to be a luminary? Warhol is an easy answer, and his prints here are the self defining answer to that question. Remember these works, for there are multitudes, editions, copies; each signed by the artist, elevating this commercial technique to the fine art realm and ensuring the work will outlive its creator.
The luminaries here are not the painters but the subjects of this wide-ranging portraiture show that opened February 24th. From the outsider art of Clark V. Fox and the cheek-to-cheek insider art of Warhol and Botero, the show presents George Washington, William Wilson Corcoran, Queen Elizabeth and a Primativist portrait of a child bishop.
The Henry Ulke Corcoran portrait is weighted by the man’s connection to George Washington’s early founding–himself the founding president of Columbian School at GW–and book ended by the eventual partnership between his eponymous institution and the older Foggy Bottom University whose campus already had a building in his name. It’s formalism and the smaller size of the Brady Gallery oddly makes the painting appear even larger, a sitting man with cane is suddenly hulking and brooding.
Clark V. Fox’s contribution here is a return to George Washington, a persistent subject for the post-pop artist. Contrasting Ulke’s portrait, there is no grandeur or classicism outside of a standard sitter’s silhouette. Fox borrows from Robert Indiana’s color palette on top of a background with all the fleshiness of de Kooning–a militaristic camo pattern that posits Washington as a general first, and history as a psychedelic wash of post-modernism. (Clark worked at the Corcoran, collaborated with stalwart faculty and Washington Color School champion Gene Davis, and showed in the 1977 Corcoran Biennial.)
What is consistent in the show is that each subject has been tweaked in a idiosyncratic manner, telling the viewer more about the artist than the subject. That seems to be the curatorial intent. From Warhol and Botero, this can be expected, too, seeing a Warhol half in focus from a distance would lead you to his colors and cut-out shapes before you made out who the subject was or is. And Botero’s cherrubs live in their own Grecian mythology, plump beyond reality, while his subject remains an unknown bishop. The painting is his. The painting is him.