The representational or figurative works in this section exemplify the myriad ways in which artists explore the human form as subject. Portraiture, for these artists, invites opportunity for experimentation. Some of these works demonstrate an intuitive approach toward highly expressive pictures while others depict the subject more realistically. The installation considers ways in which figuration and abstraction have established a dialogue that at times collides in a single artist’s work. This can be seen in George Baselitz’s Mrs. Lenin and the Nightingale (2008) and Henri Michaux’s Untitled (1981), for example, which achieve a level of abstraction while maintaining figuration.
Serial repetition across multiple canvases or within a single composition is a strategy used by several of these artists. A selection of Alex Katz’s Smiles (1993-94) demonstrates formal and conceptual experimentation through the motif of the figure which functions as a tool for artistic investigation into the traditional figure-ground relationship. Katz’s aim is not to represent the sitter’s personality, rather to present a more profound reflection on the nature of representation and the perception of images. By repeating the same framing device, figure-ground treatment, and the gesture of the smile, Katz beckons the viewer to focus on the pictorial experimentation across these varied depictions instead of the specific subject.