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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Human Body at the Haggerty

Scrutinizing Warhol, Toulouse-Lautrec, Longo and others

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Mao Tse-tung, French can-can dancer Jane Avril and a 1980s businessman, along with a $1,000 bill, walk into a gallery…

There should be a great punch line to this grouping by artists Andy Warhol, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Robert Longo and Neil Winokur. They are part of the intriguing new exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art, styled as “Scrutiny After the Glimpse. It takes the human body as an overarching theme, but this is a looser premise than the suggestions made by the organization of the works. The typically chronological arrangement is chucked in favor of stylistic or metaphoric unity.

Hung with great purpose is a self-portrait of John Wilde, his body ravaged by wounds while an inscription laments his impending death, concluding with “Amen, Hallelujah.” Next to it is a self-portrait of Chuck Close, who faced challenges of the body when a spinal artery collapse left him paralyzed. Physical fragility acts as unseen fuel for both of these pieces.

Other groupings are more overt in their connections. A Madonna and Child from the 17th century shows the Virgin Mary holding infant Jesus. She is calm, dignified, perfect, though her heavy eyelids suggest weariness. The child is restless in sleep, his lips part, he whimpers while he dreams. This is hung in concert with a painting by Karl Priebe, where a black Madonna and Child stand regally still and elegant in an otherworldly landscape, accompanied by a few sweet birds. Rounding out the trio is a large photograph by Graham Miller. Rhonda and Chantelle sit in the large backseat of a car, the mother’s hair disheveled as her pensive face stares straight ahead. Her pouty daughter leans on her chest, displaying a mix of boredom and fatigue. The frazzled reality of life makes itself felt in this contemporary photograph, simultaneously accenting the dreamy idealization of its historical counterparts.

When visiting this exhibition, take the title to heart. Let your mind and eyes wander, but also let them dwell, pouring over details, and the relationships between works of art and artists spanning centuries will emerge.

“Scrutiny After the Glimpse” continues through Aug. 3, at the Haggerty Museum of Art (Marquette University campus, 13th and Clybourn streets).