GETTYSBURG — Art often holds a mirror up to contemporary society. It reflects the state of popular culture and climate of the times.
Gettysburg College’s Schmucker Art Gallery is hosting two exhibits whose art reflects the times in which they were created.
In “Andy Warhol: Polaroids & Portraits,” the ’70s and ’80s emphasis upon wealth and “15 minutes of fame” are front and center, while the culture of today is the focus of “Melissa Ichiuji: In the Flesh,” which examines the merger of politics and “infotainment” to create a new breed of celebrity. She also addresses the issues of gender roles, body image and sexual mores affecting the women of today.
Drawing upon a 2007 gift to the college from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Gettysburg was one of 183 institutions to receive a donation of original Polaroid photographs and gelatin silver prints from the collection of 28,542 Warhol photographs valued in excess of $28 million. The 13 Polaroids and three black-and-white prints illustrate the intersection of Warhol’s art, work and life.
He used the Polaroids to document celebrities in single frames, which often were used as source material for his commissioned silk screened portraiture and magazine covers. The exhibition includes the posed “mug shots” of such notables as Wayne Gretzky, Pia Zadora, Martha Graham and Neil Sedaka. These well-known photographs were as much capturing images for Warhol’s work as they served to flaunt his celebrity-filled social life.
Three black-and-white prints from the collection stand in contrast as more subtle, unposed and intimate images of Warhol’s circle. The soft natural looks of the prints are almost polar opposites to the consistently staged and stylized portraits of the polaroids.
While Warhol used his art to create and document celebrities of the ’70s and ’80s, Melissa Ichiuji uses her art to critique and comment upon society and popular culture of today. Ichiuji is a nationally and internationally recognized sculptor whose work is political, sometimes controversial and always suggestive of power, violence and morality.
Her exhibition “In the Flesh” consists of three parts: “Fair Game,” “Domestic Goddesses” and “Everything to Lose.” Ichiuji is a sculptor who sews and assembles her objects by combining natural and synthetic materials, such as pantyhose, faux fur, fabric and leather. Prominent stitching techniques as well as careful attention to detail are unmistakable hallmarks of her work.
“In the Flesh” brings together an assortment of political figures from the 2012 election cycle. These soft sculptured busts
feature exaggerated caricatures of both Republicans and Democrats. Ichiuji explains that the portraits reveal “the destructive erosion of media spin and public scrutiny.” Moreover she says of her work, “I am attempting to challenge the tradition of portraiture that elevates its subject to affirm his or her nobility, virtue or power.”
While calling to mind classical Roman busts in their likenesses and presence, instead of respect and honor, there is a physical manifestation of scandal and mockery portrayed. From a Jackie O-like treatment of Michelle Obama with layers of pearls and a grand, veiled hat covered in produce to Mitt Romney’s exposed brain, revealing a cold, robotic machination, her targets are clearly bipartisan and all up for scrutiny.
In contrast to the recognizable political heads, Ichiuji’s faceless life-sized female sculptures in “Domestic Goddesses” are at first glance jarring, but upon further examination, it is clear that she is exploring female stereotypes and feminist issues. Her work draws upon the Surrealistic traditions of using unorthodox materials and exaggerated features to express unrepressed feelings and universal truths. “Reverie” is a piece consisting of an adult figure coupled with a smaller figure constructed from the same velvety material to indicate a mother/child relationship. The larger figure is posed in a manner not only suggesting her fatigue but the complex roles she must play as a woman.
Finally, Ichiuji integrates her sculpture with her experience as a dancer in a performance projection piece, which depicts the assemblage of a female human body. Beginning with an anonymous lithe form covered in lace and sparkling mirrors, she adds layer upon layer of body parts to create a fully realized figure. From the anatomic layers representing muscle and skin to the humanizing face and heart, the graceful dance throughout the film is a joyful and very human celebration of a woman.
There will be an artist’s talk with Melissa Ichiuji at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the gallery. A reception will follow from 5-6 p.m. “In the Flesh” runs until Dec. 6.
“Andy Warhol: Portraits & Polaroids” is on display until Sept. 28.
The Schmucker Art Gallery is located on the main floor of Gettysburg College’s Schmucker Hall, located at the intersection of North Washington and Water streets in Gettysburg. Admission is free, as is parking in visitor lots on campus. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
For further information, visit www.gettysburg.edu/gallery.
Joseph George holds a degree in history and art history from Dickinson College. He and his wife, Barrie Ann have spent much of their 20 years together traveling and visiting art galleries locally and throughout the world. Their tastes range from fine art to street art.