Up Close

Film & Art, Play, Sydney / 7 January 2015

“That is definitely a photograph.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Wait… it’s a tapestry.”
Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration
American artist, Chuck Close wasn’t joking around when he said, “I make experiences for people to look at.” With over 200 solo exhibitions in more than 20 countries, people all over the world have been “looking” at Close’s portraits for more than 40 years.
“Looking” may be an understatement. Be prepared for a physical experience. You stand at a distance to take the portraits in, then move closer. The shock value comes when your eyes and brain finally sync.
In the first large-scale exhibition of its kind, The Museum of Contemporary Art have brought together hundreds of the artists’s work including trial and colour proofs, tests and source materials, alongside finished pieces. The “process” is central to the exhibition’s theme – Terrie Sultan, curator of the exhibition, has worked in close collaboration with Close to reveal to visitors, the “magic” of his methods.
“Collaboration” is another important component. Whilst Chuck Close has built his reputation as a painter, the MCA focuses solely on his work as a printmaker. Close began experimenting with the printing method back in 1972, and has been pushing the boundaries of the medium ever since.
Walking from room to room, admiring the floor to ceiling portraits, we were puzzled to find that most of the prints came with a blurb detailing the names of various printmakers. If Close wasn’t the printmaker, we were left questioning what his role was. According to exhibition curator Glenn Barkley, Close is  an “innovative visual thinker.” He photographs the subject (always a human face) and drives the recreation and reconstruction of the image through a multitude of means – from etching, screenprints, Jacquard tapestries and Woodbury types.
During our visit, we finished in a gallery filled with high school students. A museum guide pointed to a colourful, block print and asked the group; “What type of music does this piece remind you of?”
A young girl at the back piped up, “Jazz?” she asked.
“Quite right.”
You can just imagine Chuck blaring American jazz in his New York studio, his eyes a little crazy beneath paint spluttered glasses.
After a couple of hours trailing in awe from one portrait to the next our energy levels were running low. We popped upstairs to the MCA Cafe to find a special edition “New York Now” menu featuring Reuben Sandwiches and New York Cheesecake.
You only have to glance out the floor to ceiling windows and take in the Bridge and Opera House, to remember that you’re not in the Big Apple.
If you’re an art enthusiast or just fancy a cultural outing, you’ve got till March 15 to head down to The Rocks and check out the MCA’s summer exhibition. Be prepared for an “experience.”
MCA Café at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia:
Level 4, 140 George Street, The Rocks, NSW 2000
Mon – Wed10am-5pm
Thu 10am-9pm
Fri – Sun 10am-5pm