Chuck Close: Process and Collaboration at the KMA

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The KMA has been woefully uninspiring for a great many months. The last great exhibit was a collection of Polaroids (of course, that was an awesome show. One of the best I’ve seen there). There have been many great shows in the past, but not lately. This one, happily, ends that trend.

Chuck Close: Process and Collaboration focuses on Close’s experiments and investigations into the art of printmaking. His first print was in 1972, and since then he’s become an important proponent of printmaking as a fine art.

The exhibit contains pieces spanning the last 35 years of Close’s career. It contains many of his self portraits that were made over this time, which interestingly document his aging. Close’s experiments over a wide variety of media are also shown. Mezzotints, lithographs, torn-paper collages, woodblocks, and silk screens are all present, as are a variety of images using a range of techniques, from small eight inch prints done with etching to the gargantuan eight foot tall heads done with silkscreen.

There is a certain understated discomfort in standing in front of an eight foot tall head staring directly at you, just as there is always a delight in standing close and looking at the abstracted brushstrokes or pencil lines that one can back away from and realize they add up to a photo-realistic portrait. The museum was filled with people standing ten inches away from a print, peering at the blobs of color, then backing up ten yards and squinting their eyes to see the blobs of color blur into a surprisingly realistic image. You can’t not do that at a Chuck Close exhibit. If you’ve ever seen one of Close’s paintings or prints reproduced in a magazine or book, you owe it to yourself to come see one in real life.

The fascinating part of the exhibit though, is not the prints themselves, but the process displayed. Several woodblocks are shown adjacent to the print they produced. There are linoleum cuts on display. As are copper etching plates. There are “unfinished” prints, missing a few color plates, next to the “finished” print. All on display to show the process, and the way the final piece was produced.

That the exhibit reads more as an educational experience rather than an “art show” experience is not at all a bad thing. This show can be one of great enjoyment to fans of Close, or fans of printmaking, or even of any non-art lover who’s interested in the process.

That is the best part of Chuck Close: Process and Collaboration. Seeing the step by step by step progressions of each piece, and the step by step progression of the artist over the past 35 years. You don’t have to be a Chuck Close fan to enjoy that. And I dare say, you don’t even have to like art to enjoy seeing the process.