Old article: 81 Heads Exhibit at Norumbega Hall, Bangor

male head robert gordy
Male Head, Robert Gordy

Eighty heads are better than one: Norumbega Hall's exhibit offers portraits from well-known artists

By: Bridget Eileen, The Maine Campus
Posted: 4/27/06

This post was orginally an article I wrote for the Maine Campus. If I do say so myself, it's a really well-written piece! I was pretty good at journalism. 

A panoply of portraits is what the current exhibit "81 Heads" at University of Maine Museum of Art offers its patrons. All the portraits are from the museum's own collection. The title "81 Heads" comes from the fact that of 33 pieces, the heads featured add up to 81.

"The Kenro Izu exhibit, Sacred Places, that we are also featuring at this time is monochromatic, very distant and soulful," said Wally Mason, UMMA curator. "I wanted to have an exhibit with lots of color and lots of different ideas going on all at once."

Indeed, the exhibit is varied. It features works from well-known artists such as Pablo Picasso to less prominent artists, like Robert Gordy. Gordy was an American artist from New Orleans, who died from AIDS in the eighties. The portrait featured in "81 Heads" titled "Head," an abstract lithograph featuring the head of a man, was the last print he made.

"He signed that print on his deathbed," Mason noted.

Upon entering the Zillman gallery adjacent to the UMMA lobby where the majority of the exhibit is included, one is inundated by the collection of portraits featured. This was intentional.

"Again, because the Kenro Izu exhibit is so sparse, we wanted to overwhelm in this exhibit," said Mason.

The most prominent portrait in the gallery was a Picasso. The large Picasso, titled "Jacqueline in a Straw Hat," portrays a head with a yellow hat in the abstract manner one would expect from a Picasso. It is a standout because of its size and obvious creator.

Each portrait juxtaposes the next and taking the time to focus on each can give the viewer a variety of stories. Tucked in the bottom corner of the third wall was a surrealist portrait by British artist David Hockney titled "Celia with Guest." Hockney portrays Celia's head as a canvas with two full-lashed eyes and a luscious heart-shaped mouth. Her guest is a black stick figure sitting on blue points that vaguely resemble a chair. The portrait is deceptively simple and offers so much in a small space.

Another standout piece in the collection was Andy Warhol's "Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli." In this piece, Warhol "changed the context of the Renaissance to contemporary times," Mason noted. "It makes it more appealing for young people." The famous Botticelli portrait was made into a silk screen by Warhol and then he changed the colors. Most striking is the fact that the Venus is black instead of white in Warhol's reproduction.

The inspiration for the set up of portraits on the gallery walls was that of someone's home, where pictures of friends and family crowd the hallway or stairway. "I wanted to put together work that was disparate in content to show that there are as many ways to see a person as there are artists to portray them." The result is a fresh and adventurous look at the pieces already in the museum's collection.