Consider the Face – Thoughts from Li Tang’s Portrait Exhibition

Running November 7, 2022, to January 22, 2023, Li Tang Gallery presents Portrait — an online group exhibition that runs the gamut from high-end realism to gritty forays into abstraction, along with just about any other approach that you can think of. You can view it in a 3D gallery or in a simplified presentation.

poster credit: Li Tang Team

Guest jury artists Philip A. Robinson Jr. and Jiannan Wu combed through an overwhelming response to the open call, providing a selection of artists working in a variety of forms and styles, and coming from many different points in their careers. 

The result is very much in line with what the art world has come to expect from the New York City-based Li Tang Gallery. Being online, they frequently bring together diverse voices from around the world. And they continue to live on the forefront of digital curation, with the current exhibit proving just how effective this new gallery format can be when done well, even when tackling such a tradition-laden genre as the portrait.

The jury made an effort to display a breadth of styles and approaches, turning Portrait into a snapshot of the contemporary art scene. Taken as a whole, it bears witness to the artwork that’s bubbling, cauldron-like, out of the stew of the current moment. And that current moment appears fertile. Looking through the exhibit immediately reminds the viewer that the portrait as a genre is thriving. 

Image courtesy of Li Tang Gallery

There are some pieces that attempt a more symptomatic expression of our times. Ivan Milenkovic’s Smartphone Light 30 (2022) has the subject spookily lighting her face from below with her phone’s screen. The artist allows the facial expression and urban background to draw viewers to their own insights. But other works provide more forceful narratives. As in the new series by Negar Jahanbakhsh called The Lottery, which unfolds over multiple paintings filled with sharply observed details. 

There are also multiple video entries, pushing the interpretation of the portrait into fresh territory. For instance, Jocelyn Keyi Wu’s Eating 1 (2022) is a contemplative, surreal horror — diving into the psychology of a human with riveting images that push the boundary of typical portraiture while always being in service to its central tenet of revealing the subject’s humanity. That more experimental bent works right alongside more straightforward pieces like Friends in India (2022) by Seona Summer. This is a beautiful and more traditional portrait that welcomes the viewer in with candid energy electrified by the canvas’s bright colors. 

Image courtesy of Li Tang Gallery
Image courtesy of Li Tang Gallery

What does this bricolage of various styles amount to? In the end, one cannot help but ruminate on the meaning and power in the human face and figure. The act of capturing the essence of an interior world, a personal history, and a material context through the depiction of a person remains a singular pursuit in art. Though its history is long and its examples many, the portrait is still as captivating as ever.

That this truly ancient genre is paired with such a cutting-edge digital presentation is a reminder that, no matter how the technology of the art world changes, the essence will never diminish. And in Lit Tang Gallery’s Portrait, the sense and appreciation of this essence are renewed.

View the exhibition at https://litanggallery.com/2022/11/06/portrait-international-juried-exhibition/

(Review by: Jonathan Clark)

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