Try to guess which picture was made by which artist when he or she was a child. (Guesses can be made in any order.)
At the new Whitney Museum’s inaugural exhibition, "America Is Hard to See," the artist Chuck Close’s photorealistic painting of Philip Glass was a showstopper — reminding everyone of the 75-year-old artist’s immense talent for coaxing the extraordinary out of the everyday. A master of repetition and minutiae, the artist continues to produce immaculately rendered works with his signature grid technique. An enthusiastic technophile, Close likes to harness new production methods as a way to further strain the relationship between the real and the represented. Despite his technological advances, Close’s practice still remains tied to his first art experience — when his father hired a private art instructor to teach him to paint at the age of 8. A stroll through Close’s new, self-portrait-focused exhibition at Pace Gallery demonstrates that the love of color his teacher instilled has lasted a lifetime.
Approaching the studio like a mad scientist, the 41-year-old artist David Altmejd embraces the beauty of the grotesque. The unlikely materials Altmejd tends to favor — broken mirrors, glass eyeballs, plastic fruit — inform his hands-on approach to sculpture. The artist’s fascination with blending the inanimate and the organic comes to a head in his large-scale Plexiglas structures, which saddle the line between installation and sculpture. While his sculptures suggest he was always an aesthete, Altmejd’s interest in science actually predates his artistic inclinations. “I must have been around 8 when I drew this, because there was red carpet in our apartment at that time," he says. "‘Miam’ means ‘Yum’ in French, which might indicate that what I'm holding in my hand is food. Although I think it's a rock, which would make sense because at that age I wanted to be a geologist,” he continues. “I can totally see myself whining because I don't know what to draw and my mom suggesting I draw myself as an adult.”
“This painting was done when I was at grammar school in England," says the 68-year-old artist Penny Slinger of the childhood work displayed here. "We were given an assignment in art class to paint 'A Summer's Afternoon.' Seeking to depict my experience of being at school, I decided to give my rendition of a concentration camp. My 'protest art' was, however, well received and, much to my chagrin, the headmistress liked it so much she hung it in her office.” Slinger’s work continues to find an eager audience. Best known for her surrealist, psychedelic collages and provocative self-portraits, the Los Angeles-based artist’s work explores female psyche and its relationship to the body and exterior forces. A prolific critical writer, Slinger seamlessly mixes art-history references, feminist discourse and popular culture, using the glossy language of magazines.
Often referred to as the grandfather of art furniture, Wendell Castle is a pioneer as a manufacturer and an artist. The inventor of stacked laminate woodcarving, a technique that enabled him to produce his impossibly curved furniture, Castle derived inspiration from overcoming the limitations of his organic medium. Trained as an artist, the 82-year-old came to woodworking from the vantage point of a sculptor. His new show at Museum of Art and Design in New York celebrates this artistic legacy and showcases the way Castle’s work continues to evolve towards the abstract using new laser-printing technologies. “My one and only class in woodworking, which was mandatory for boys, was in the seventh grade in Coffeeville, Kansas. Little did I know that this could lead to anything,” says Castle, who has created almost 2,000 pieces to date. “It would be 16 years later that I rediscovered furniture.”
The sculptor Joel Morrison brings a renewed sense of wonder to everyday objects by casting them in highly polished metals. The 38-year-old artist’s shiny creations, reminiscent of trophies, bring the textures of the objects — shopping carts, studded leather jackets and cushions — to the forefront, allowing the viewer to study their forms. References to art history are abundant in Morrison’s work; a fabric rendition of a Frank Stella wall piece cast in stainless steel hints at the humor that underpins the artist’s work. While his medium has become more specific, Morrison's attention to precision predates his artistic career. “Here is my first punk band I played in. I would do all the cover art for the cassettes and hand them out to my friends. The recordings were pretty bad and simple, but the albums looked cool,” says Morrison. “I was obsessed with making it look official.”