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Museums

By Rita J. Egan

With the inventions of camera phones and social media, capturing the image of family members and friends is easier than ever. Even taking a photo of oneself is as simple as a quick click with a smartphone. Today’s version of the self-portrait, the selfie, has become so popular, reality television star Kim Kardashian has dedicated her soon-to-be released book, “Selfish,” to the art form, and last year the electric dance music DJ duo The Chainsmokers released their song “#Selfie.”

However, before social media and the Kardashians, even prior to the creation of the camera, artists have preserved the images of their fellow human beings and themselves for centuries. To celebrate the art of creating portraits, The Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington offers two new portraiture exhibits starting April 25 — Before Selfies: Portraiture through the Ages and Poised Poses: Portraits from the August Heckscher Collection.

‘Self Portrait in Cape,‘ 1934, Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of Audrey Webster. by Stokely Webster
‘Self Portrait in Cape,‘ 1934, Heckscher Museum of Art, Gift of Audrey Webster. by Stokely Webster

Lisa Chalif, museum curator, said it’s the perfect time for portraiture exhibits in this age of the selfie. “With the increasing use of social media, selfies stick in the news all the time. It’s so visible now, that it seems it sort of lends itself naturally to taking a look at portraiture historically. Before the age of your cell phone and the selfie, how did you get the likeness of yourself? Before the advent of photography really, how did you preserve your likeness?”

The Before Selfies exhibit, which includes both portraits and self-portraits donated by various individuals to the museum throughout the years, features approximately four dozen pieces by artists such as Thomas Anshutz, William Merritt Chase, Henri Matisse and 19th-century Long Island painter William Sidney Mount. Chalif said most of the portraits are from the 16th through 20th centuries with a few pieces from this century, and the pieces include oil paintings, pen and ink drawings on paper, chromogenic prints, bronze and marble sculptures as well as other mediums.

The curator said the exhibit not only focuses on the artists’ depictions of family, friends, public figures and character types but also takes a look at themes such as changing concepts of beauty and different approaches to depicting male and female subjects depending on underlying gender roles.

The Poised Poses: Portraits from the August Heckscher Collection exhibit complements the Before Selfies exhibit and features paintings from the museum founder’s private collection, which he donated in 1920.

Chalif said Heckscher had an extensive collection of historical European portraiture. The oil paintings on canvas and wood panels on display at the exhibit are by artists such as Sir William Beechey, George Romney, Antoine Vollon, Nicholas de Largilliere and Franz Wolfgang Rohrich.

When it comes to what she hopes visitors will learn from the exhibits, Chalif said, “A larger understanding of the portrait, of saving your appearance. What are you conveying when you are snapping a selfie, and how does that differ from historical portraiture? Just a larger sense of how to read a portrait, what does it convey beyond what somebody looked like? What can I learn about a period of history or the history of fashion? Just all the different ways that artists might convey something, information beyond somebody’s appearance.”

In honor of the museum’s two portraiture exhibits, there will be a selfie station for visitors where they can create their own portraits. Guests are also encouraged to share their images from the station on Instagram and use the hashtags #hmaselfie and #heckschermuseum.

Before Selfies: Portraiture through the Ages runs from April 25 through Aug. 9, and Poised Poses: Portraits from the August Heckscher Collection runs from April 25 through Aug. 2. The Heckscher Museum of Art is located at 2 Prime Avenue in Huntington and is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-351-3250.

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