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Cover thumbnail for Face Forward Face Forward

How many faces (besides your own in the mirror) have you laid eyes on in the past year? 2020 is over and it's time to look again, so we're pleased to present "Face Forward," an exhibition opening February 1. It is an opportunity to focus on the diversity of portraiture and figurative works we have in our collection, as well as feature new acquisitions that you have not seen on campus before.

In her 2020 book, "Stranger Faces" — more specifically, in her introduction, titled "Look at Me," a perfect springboard for an exhibition of portraiture — Namwali Serpell describes the face as "fundamental to how we understand ourselves. The face means identity, truth, feeling, beauty, authenticity, humanity." (She specifies that her work is focused on faces of the human animal, not other animals.) As each of us is an individual with our own thoughts and opinions — the unique workings in the mysterious realm behind our own face — the faces we encounter invariably strike each of us at different points along the limitless spectrum of each of those phenomena. It's a fool's errand to either pose or attempt to answer questions like "what is 'truth'?;" "what is 'beauty'?" It is not so pointless, however, to ponder the questions more personally: what are such things to you? How is your answer to such conundra affected when viewing an art exhibition, in which identity, truth, feeling, beauty, authenticity, and humanity have been filtered for your delectation through the perceptions, actions and productions of artists?

According to Serpell, the face that satisfies all criteria for identity, truth, feeling, beauty, authenticity, and humanity might be called the Ideal Face (or, to more pragmatic eyes, the Generic Face), which of course, does not exist in reality. Forsaking the ideal generic for the idiosyncratic particular, the artists assembled here provide an example of a richness and diversity that may inspire us to deeper understanding, even empathy, for the lives behind the faces we encounter even among those we will never know more fully. What we give up in the definitive we gain in the additive, the inconclusive, even the fugitive. Full frontal, side eye, or a parting glance: Out of one, many.

However else you define beauty, one of the many beauties of works of art at the Grinnell College Museum of Art is that, while they pose many complex questions, answers are not required as a price of admission. We've just endured (alas, continue to endure) one of the most harrowing experiences in our collective memory, and while many of us may be eager for a critic's or philosopher's challenge, others are seeking simpler pleasures: comfort, respite, or the chance to return the gaze of a maskless face.

Showing 1 to 20 of 33 Records

Black Madonna

Liu Hung
Hand coloring, lithograph
21st Century Chinese Print

I in the Other

Aïda Muluneh
21st Century Photograph

The Resilience of Beauty

Aïda Muluneh
21st Century Ethiopian Photograph

Shadows, reflections and all that sort of thing, #24

Jorma Puranen
Grieger GmbH face-mounting
Chromogenic print, diasec process
21st Century Finland Photograph


Charles Bierk
Tau Lewis sitter
oil on canvas on masonite
21st Century Canada painting

Future Bitches

Hope Gangloff
Acyrlic on canvas
21st Century American Painting

Jonas II

Charles Bierk
Oil on canvas
21st Centruy


Till Freiwald
Watercolor on heavy wove paper
21st Century Peruvian|German Painting

Maori Woman

C. F. Goldie (aka Charles Frederick Goldie, Charles Goldie)
Oil paint on canvas
20th Century New Zealand Painting

Keni, New Orleans

Alec Soth
21st Century Photograph

Now is Enough

James Gobel
Felt, yarn, rhinestones, acrylic on canvas
21st Century United States Painting

Freude am Leben

Lovis Corinth
East Prussian|German

Selbstbildnis mit Gattin

Lovis Corinth
20th Century East Prussian|German Print


Chuck Close
A/D Gallery (aka A/D (Artist Designer)) publisher
Hand knotted silk on linen warp, textile
20th Century United States

Ivar von Lucken

Oskar Kokoschka
20th Century Austrian Print

Portrait of Helen

Alice Neel (aka Alice Hartley Neel)
Ink on paper
20th Century United States Drawing

Showing 1 to 20 of 33 Records

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