In this rare opportunity, the Peoria Art Guild has the distinction of being the only venue in the Midwest to present 18 extra-large Cibachrome photographs from Andres Serrano’s AMERICA, a series of 100 portraits Serrano began in late 2001. This unique exhibit is on display April 15 to June 4.
According to the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York City, Andres Serrano’s current work alludes to the grand tradition of studio portraiture, offering imposing, sumptuously lit portraits of a broad spectrum of Americans. All-inclusive in its intent, the series shatters limitations of age, class, ethnicity, and professional occupation that have traditionally governed portraiture. In it, subjects as varied as a Boy Scout, a banker, and a mail carrier are depicted, offering a fresh look at “We, the people,” at a time when American identity and values are the subject of intense political debate-both here and abroad.
While suggesting an updated definition of American identity, the series also highlights the discrepancies between public and private, professional and personal, and appearance and essence, which inhabit all of us. While some of those photographed put forth their public persona with a certain degree of pride or self-confidence, others seem to use it as a shield, protecting their inner selves. Others, still, appear to have broken through any socially imposed layer to reveal their bare humanity.
Serrano photographed each person in front of a unique hand painted background designed specifically for that individual. The four- by five-foot scale of the richly colored photographs and the placement of the figures within the picture plane transform them into modern day icons, halo effect and all.
“There is strength in numbers,” according to Michelle Traver, Peoria Art Guild Executive Director and Curator, who selected the 18 images to be exhibited in Peoria. “The experience of viewing them together will maximize the impact and the opportunity for us to see, or be confronted by, ourselves. In choosing the prints for Peoria, I considered one thing beyond formal considerations: Was this a portrait of someone the audience would feel like they could meet or might already know? In that sense, these portraits take on an archetypal sensation, a known commodity, the familiar.”
Serrano is an internationally acclaimed and collected artist. He was born in New York in 1950, studied at the Brooklyn Museum and Art School, and started exhibiting in the 1980s. In 1989, his work, among others, helped launch a national debate about free expression and federal funding of the arts. Serrano’s art has investigated the nature of contemporary spirituality in many provocative ways-from images of religious icons bathed in bodily fluids to portraits of clergy and church interiors to the Morgue Series, (1992) a chilling sequence of images of corpses taken in a city morgue. Portraiture has always been part of his practice; past series of portraits have included Klansmen (1990), Nomads (1990), American Indians (1995), and Bodybuilders (1998).
Works from AMERICA, on loan from the Paula Cooper Gallery, NYC, have exhibited in New York City, Los Angles, London, England, and Italy, in addition to the Peoria Art Guild. The Brooklyn Museum of Art will host the entire 100 photographs of AMERICA this fall. AMERICA & Other Works, a recent publication encompassing Serrano’s career, is available by Taschen Publishers.
A public opening reception with Serrano takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., April 15. Cost is $15 for PAG members and $25 for non-members. An Artist’s Lecture and Book Signing takes place at 2 p.m., April 16. Cost is $10. Gallery admission to view the work costs $5 for adults, $3 for children and students, and is free for PAG members. For more information, call 637-2787. AA!