What does a body hold?
The human brain contains neurons specifically tasked with the ability to quickly recognize and interpret the faces and body language each person encounters on a daily basis. Double Take: Insights on Figural Expression explores the changes in perception that take place when the human form is visually disrupted. Artists depict the human body as a representation both of the individual, and as a way to portray the basic essence of humanity as a whole. When the standardized human form is changed and added to, or is stripped down to essential parts, additional layers of perception and understanding are revealed to the viewer. How can the disruption of anatomical norms of a human figure in a work of art direct the interpretation of that form by the viewer? What cultural symbols, values, or characteristics of identity are exposed when the humanity of the figure is significantly changed through artistic expression?
Double Take: Insights on Figural Expression examines the use of stylized and expressionistic figures in works of art from University Museums’ permanent collection. Through political cartoons, well-known figures are changed into satirical characters, or forms of beings that rouse distrust. Examples of artist sketches, completed quickly or in times of detailed study, illustrate a focus on bodily movement and the practice of distilling the human figure to elemental forms. Stylization of the human body can also lead the viewer through explorations of identity with imagery that signifies power, beauty, or the individual values and beliefs a person holds. Throughout this exhibition, viewers are asked to contemplate how stylization and changes to the human figure allow for the opportunity to look beyond the image, to engage with new frames of reference found within the portrayed figure, points of reference beyond the initial basic perception of shared humanity.
This exhibition was curated by University Museums featuring objects from the permanent collection. Generous support for the exhibition was provided by Ann and Al Jennings and the University Museums Membership.
Image credit: Tuned In: Sketch for Yellow Man, early 1990s, Jeanine Coupe Ryding (American, b. 1948), Woodcut print, Gift of Gretchen Grosse/Olson Beckley. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2021.19
Through preparatory studies and maquettes, artists often break down their imagery of the body into simplified shapes, exploring how to best depict movement and the flow of the body through the environment. How do the sketches and maquettes in the exhibition communicate motion differently?
Depicting public leaders and political movements, political cartoons often take complicated news stories and communicate them to be understood visually for anyone with a newspaper subscription. What visual symbols are present in the examples in the exhibition, and do they simplify a complex issue, or pass judgement on the current event of their time?
The altering of an environment and the figure, with gestural strokes in the style of Abstract Expressionism, or the erasing of identifying characteristics, can alter the viewer’s interpretation of an image. When does a depiction of a figure become more wrapped in the emotion of the work of art, rather than being about the subject depicted?
The reflection of a mirror should reveal a fairly accurate image of ones’ self. However, self-reflection can lead to a distorted depiction rife with how flawed we perceive ourselves. In these works of art, artists focusing on perceived flaws and the urge to camouflage to make beautiful for outside observers. How is identity wrapped up in outward appearance? Does the realistic image of the body change when artist depicts a model or muse?
Depictions of angels, gods and their larger-than-life forms emphasize their superiority over man, while the masks, funerary practices and ceremonial objects used by man also work to alter the body, often to please the gods. How do cultures alter the physical body to project power, prepare for the afterlife, or appear more like the gods?