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Portraits face off at the Hammer Museum

January 4, 2009 |  7:00 am

Dupuis Audiences have always been fascinated with the art of portraiture, whether it's Leonardo's "Mona Lisa" or Andy Warhol's turquoise painting of Marilyn Monroe.  It's a staple in most museums' exhibition schedules.

The Hammer Museum has dug into its own collections for an interesting view of the art in "Other People," 75 works drawn from the historical collections of the UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts and the Hammer Contemporary Collection.

"We saw this as an opportunity to showcase the depth of our collections," said Cynthia Burlingham, director of the Grunwald Center and deputy director of collections for the Hammer. When Burlingham sat down with Gary Garrels, former chief curator at the Hammer, specific themes emerged as they combed through the collections. Unlikely pairings arose, such as a 1971 Ray Johnson mixed medium portrait of boxer Gene Tunney next to a charcoal sketching of 16th century scholar Erasmus by Dürer. They are in a section of occupational portraits such as day workers by John Sonsini and subway workers by photographer Neil Slavin.

In a spiritual section, a Claude Mellan 17th century engraving, "The Sudarium of St. Veronica," can be found along with contemporary portrayals by Matthew Monahan and a Hellen van Meene photo of a young girl.

Other works that portray a certain grittiness are juxtaposed, such as Catherine Opie's "Jerome Caja" and woodcuts from 20th century artist Conrad Felixmüller.

By placing these pieces together, Burlingham hopes to create spirited conversations. "When I'm in there by myself, I feel like I'm in a crowd," said Burlingham. "It's a very active experience."

The exhibition is on display through March 15.

-- Liesl Bradner

Photo: David Dupuis' "Portrait of the Artist in the Forest of Death" (2007), part of the "Other People" exhibition. Credit: Hammer Museum