October 17, 2017 Taos, New Mexico

The Harwood Museum of Art

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Member Preview: The Errant Eye: Portraits in a Landscape
Thursday, June 1, 2017 -

Member Preview: The Errant Eye: Portraits in a Landscape

Harwood Museum


Members Only -  Members please join us for wine, hors d'oeuvres and music provided by a local string quartet featuring Audrey Davis. You will enjoy a private a preview of the summer exhibition Errant Eye - Portraits in a Landscape, including the hundreds of images we have recieved from the community as part of the Harwood Selfie Project. Additionally Museum Director Dr. Richard Tobin will give a brief presentation on Tundra by Agnes Martin, a very important painting which was gifted to the Harwood in April.

Not a member?  Join the Harwood Alliance or the  Director's Circle today.

  • Director's Circle Members - 4 - 5 pm, Tundra presentation at 4:30
  • Alliance Members - 5 - 7 pm, Tundra presentation at 6pm

Portrait denotes a “likeness,” an image of someone real, an existence it captures for us, an essence it proffers for discernment. This primary sense of portraiture, as a vital link to a natural order outside the mind—to reality—is arguably the most constant trait in the long and winding course of Western visual representation, whether in its pictorial manifestations as painting or drawing, its plastic embodiment as sculpture, or its disclosure in the camera’s eye.

While often done in a studio, portraits are never created in vitro. The human subjects they portray occupy a place, one in which they reside and interact: an environment. In his insightful study of landscape, art historian Max J. Friedlander observed that “The land is the earth’s surface… [while] landscape is the physiognomy of the land, land in its effect on us… Land is the ‘thingin-itself’, landscape the phenomenon.” And just as the portrait probes the physiognomy—countenance and character—of the sitter/subject, it is the landscape—the physiognomy of environment—that informs the subject’s character, and by extension, both its portrait and maker. A portrait, then, is not simply a likeness. It is a figure in space. A portrait unfolds in a landscape. It is a narrative. And the narrative import of landscape for portrait is especially telling for Taos and northern New Mexico. The recent exhibition Continuum described the region’s high desert aesthetic, the locus of its enduring appeal to émigré and native artist alike: “a landscape of vast imaginative force—sublime, humbling, and transformative—with its abiding local cultures: a unique sense of place and peoples that would profoundly affect their art, beliefs, and aspirations.”

The portrait’s vital role in the representation of reality in Western art is seen in its twofold power to reveal the legacy of colonization in American art—émigré artist portraits reveal the Anglo’s admiration of the indigenous Pueblo and local Hispano cultures, yet one that, to quote from a recent study on that legacy, was often “mired… in racial bias and condescension” typical of the period— and at the same time to address that legacy in the artist’s very act of choosing the subject. That compelling sense of place is at the root of the high desert aesthetic, an overarching narrative embracing the wide range of artists—emigres and indigenous alike—who shaped it over the course of centuries. That aesthetic is the
continuum of artistic styles and cultural currents that have evolved in Taos and northern New Mexico. It sustains the continuity of the wide and diverse range of works in the Harwood collections.