From Lens to Eye to Hand: Photorealism 1969 to Today

Charles Bell (American, 1935–1995), "Tropic Nights" 1991. Oil on canvas, 67 × 102 inches. Meisel Family Collections, New York. © Estate of Charles Bell; Design: Eileen Boxer.
From Lens to Eye to Hand
Photorealism 1969 to Today
August 6, 2017 to January 21, 2018

From Lens to Eye to Hand reexamines this important movement in contemporary art that found its roots in the late 1960s in California and New York and continues today. Photorealism
reintroduced what many considered to be straightforward representation into an art world more attuned to the burgeoning conceptual framework of artistic practice coming out of Pop and into Minimalism, Land Art, and Performance Art. Often misunderstood and sometimes negatively criticized as being overtly tradition-al, these artists were, and are, trailblazers.

Though Photorealism shares with preceding and concurrent modernist strains of art such elements as a detached perspective, flattened compositional space, and physical manifestation of a concept, it has at times been lampooned by critics as a betrayal of modernism due to its return to representation. These visual experiences range from uninflected depictions of everyday urban life in paintings such as ’71 Buick, 1972, by Robert Bechtle or Richard McLean’s eagle-eye capturing of the west in Western Tableau with Rhodesian Ridgeback (Trails West), 1993, to roiling compositions of the most mundane objects made magical through the sharpness of Audrey Flack’s dense still-life Wheel of Fortune, 1977–78 or Charles Bell’s Gumball No. 10 Sugar Daddy, 1975. Use of the camera as the foundation of painterly expression is common today, but these artists were em-barking on a new way of seeing and depicting the world and were groundbreaking in their creative process.

Included in the exhibition is a selection of 30 small watercolor or acrylic on paper works that have not been seen together previously in a public institution. These very special images provide an entirely new viewpoint on the Photorealist creative approach. “Luminosity, intimacy, and immediacy are the defining motivations for the Photorealists’ works on paper,” exhibition curator and Parrish Director Terrie Sultan writes. “While a large to medium scale paint-ing might take the artist months to complete, an intimately-scaled watercolor offers a pathway to experimentation, and more important perhaps, a way to express a sense of light and air that is not obtainable with oil-on-canvas.”

Taken together, the 73 works in the exhibition firmly demonstrate that Photorealism remains, undiluted and conceptually coherent and consistently compelling. Viewers can approach the work in an immediate level, for its technique, finesse, and appealing subject matter; but viewers can also go deeper, and enjoy the complexity and contradictions, the multiple means of entrance that Photorealism affords. From Lens to Eye to Hand shows that these seemingly low-key works are both provocative and puzzling.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated hard-cover book featuring more than 70 images spanning from 1971 to the present, representing large-scale paintings and intimate watercolors and other works on paper by 35 artists, demonstrating the nuances of style, approach, and subject matter explored by this renowned group of artists. Noted artist and writer Richard Kalina writes an informative essay illuminating the history of this movement, and Parrish Director and exhibition curator Terrie Sultan illuminates the artists’ approaches to the watercolors and works on paper included in the exhibition, most of which have never been exhibited in a public museum nor reproduced in print. 

The publication is available in the Museum shop and distributed internationally by DelMonico Books, an imprint of Prestel Publishing.

The exhibition, From Lens to Eye to Hand: Photorealism 1969 to Today, is made possible, in part, by the generous leadership support of Louis K. and Susan P. Meisel, Barbara Slifka, Linda Hackett and Melinda Hackett/ CAL Foundation, Sandy and Stephen Perlbinder, Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Muriel F. Siebert Foundation, and Arlene Kaufman and Sanford Baklor. Public Funding provided by Suffolk County.