Tuesday, January 17, 2006


An unexpected benefit of myopia is that one can view things with an illusion of distance. For instance: the Chuck Close self-portraits at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In the absence of optical correction, the graph-paper of Kandinsky blots dissolves into the pulpy flesh of a Lucian Freud.

It is a synthesis of figure and abstraction that is denied to the well-sighted, at least in just this form. The spaces are too small to bring the features into focus – or properly out of it? – by backing away. One would have to stand on an imaginary scaffold suspended in the air some yards beyond the museum walls, which must in turn be made transparent.

Still, everyone does instinctively back away: retreating in awkward unison as the image descends into greater clarity – and others step in to obscure the view. The effect is one of forced or unearned intimacy, followed by distance and repulsion.

Some earlier paintings reverse the pattern: one stands at eye's width from an acrylic or watercolour that is a virtual photograph; from here, the brushstrokes can at last be made out.

More recent works must viewed one by one: a shadowy case of daguerrotypes, and a creeping corridor lined with luminous blue rectangles. They seem to be blank, at first: not so strange in a museum of modern art. But the crowds are staring in; the pictures are holographic.

I don't know how to articulate the point of these Close encounters; but I am sure that they communicate something. Is this an instance of non-discursive thought?


Post a Comment

<< Home