You probably aren’t a fan of photography — and, to a degree, history — if you aren’t gripped by many of the images in “Faces: Vintage and Contemporary Photographic Portraits” at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art.
Every work’s a picture of a face, but all of the work collectively spans the diverse and recent history of photography, from a vintage Alfred Stieglitz 1904 photogravure of a woman wearing a hat to Arnold Newman’s 1954 portrait of Pablo Picasso to Sally Mann’s 1989 uneasy yet gorgeous image of a nude child.
This is a breezily-paced historical show whose individual works would fit quite well in the Portland Art Museum’s photography collection. And while it’s not an extraordinarily unique sampling by any measure — Portland has welcomed such works regularly in the past through other commercial art venues — the quality is affirming. The Portland art world needs the consistency of these kinds of shows.
For Hartman, the show is a change of pace from, well, a change of pace.
From his days in the Bay Area to his move to Portland a few years ago, Hartman has sold and shown modern and contemporary photography. In Portland, the emphasis has been on the contemporary, with historical works for sale on the secondary market serving as a kind of financial safety net. For a time, the gallery even seemed a replacement for the S.K. Josefsberg Studio, which exhibited dealer Steven Josefsberg’s personal choice of modern masters; Hartman’s space was also a counter to the contemporary photo venue Quality Pictures, which, like the Josefsberg gallery, is now closed.
But recently, Hartman has veered slightly away from photography, more regularly exhibiting painters and mixed media artists such as Daniel Robinson, Jessica Curtaz, Eva Speer and Paul Hornschemeier. The shift isn’t a moment but something long-term. Expect more work by artists armed with paint, pen, pencil, glue and paper.
“Faces,” then, is a welcome step back to the familiar, perhaps a way to fill a programming gap, even. But it expresses the depth of photographic works Hartman has in stock. These aren’t merely portraits; they’re a group of first-tier prints ranging from the affordable — a 1960 work by Pawela priced at $800 — to the not so affordable — Berenice Abbott’s $35,000 portrait of James Joyce, a reproduction of which has likely been glimpsed by every college student in America.
What attracts viewers in this show of nearly three dozen prints may be a matter of taste. Diane Arbus reaches touching and hysterical heights with her image of a crying child. Wayne Miller strikes a poignant and dignified mood in his look at the displaced in Naples during World War II Naples. Elliott Erwitt displays his usual tense quirkiness with a print of a boy looking through a partially shattered window. Garry Winogrand locates the sexy, taut interplay between the sexes in his photo of a gathering at the Metropolitan Museum. And Mark Steinmetz evokes tender humanity in his picture of a beautiful young girl in a cafeteria.
These pictures range from the patriarchal to the recent, from the modern to the contemporary, but each seizes photography‘s everlasting humane and visual power.
Bring us more, Charles A. Hartman Fine Art.