“Manet and the Sea” may be the exhibition receiving the most attention at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but it’s “The Faceless Figure” collection that you shouldn’t miss.
“The Faceless Figure: Photographs from the Collection,” the new exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, brings attention to the human body as a work of art. The exhibit features subjects with obscured faces.
The creators of the displayed pieces of art went to great lengths to hide the identities of their subjects, using clothing, background objects and photographic techniques. A majority of the featured photographs appear in black and white, which adds to the exhibit’s dramatic nature.
The bodies included in these photographs appear in a vast range of poses, from figures in motion to posed figures in still, yet provocative, positions.
Barbara Morgan’s “Merce Cunningham – Totem Ancestor” features an airborne woman whose playful attitude is reflected in her clothes and facial expression.
American photographer Burk Uzzle offers several memorable additions to the already visually stimulating exhibit. His photograph of a mummer mooning the camera during the 1981 Mummer’s Parade inspires a few laughs, as does his photograph of a heavily-tattooed couple in Daytona Beach, Fla., in “Bikers’ Week 1982.” Uzzle’s more serious efforts are worth paying attention to as well, especially the portrait entitled “Industrial Accident Victim,” featuring a figure with two prosthetic arms.
The highlight of the exhibit is the nude portraits by American photographer Edward Weston. Weston presents the naked human body from various perspectives, all of which are both dramatic and simple.
Other nude portraits feature bodies that don’t conform to the usual standard of beauty. These photographs, depicting the naked bodies of older or fuller bodied individuals, are in fact more interesting and beautiful than the Q-tip-thin models that typically pose for the camera.
Part of the beauty comes from the subjects’ poses – crouching figures with their features defined by the surrounding shadows, glistening bodies floating in sparkling pools of water, and even individuals whose forms have been cropped or stretched into unnatural shapes by the photographer’s hand.
If anything, the lack of identifiable facial features makes the content of the exhibit more personal. Museum visitors are better able to connect with the “everyman” quality of the photography and look with awe at the many forms taken by the already amazing human body.
Expectations are defied and conventions are ignored thanks to the visionary photographers featured in the Art Museum’s latest attraction.
“The Faceless Figure: Photographs from the Collection” will be exhibited inside the Julien Levy Gallery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through June 27.
Marta Rusek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org