Czech artist Jiri Anderle pays tribute with his 1979 mezzotint, "The Last Spring of My Grandmother," a da Vinci-like rendition of her care-worn face in multiple expressions, including overlays of her hand gripping a cane, her face in profile, and the outline of her Old World babushka. Underlit and mysterious, "Lilya" stares past us with doleful eyes in Mons Breidvik's 1933 lithograph of a dark-eyed girl. The harsh angles of Kathe Kollwitz's 1923 "Self-Portrait" are well-suited to her choice of woodcut technique. And in tremendously realistic yet unflattering detail, Robert Nanteuil teases from the engraving plate a dour 1660 "Portrait of Ann of Austria."
Faces are fascinating subject matter. Studies suggest babies as young as 6 months can recognize facial characteristics. This exhibition shows faces in repose, staring boldly, turned slightly away, or caught in expression. The works vary from no larger than a few inches to several feet, in line, shape and value, from delicate tonal values of black to shocking screenprint color. Some are more literal while others -- like Atsuo Sakuzame's "Metamorphosing Head" or Ibrahim Miranda's "Lagrimas Negras (Black Tears)" -- use the portrait as a framework for symbolic expression. The gallery faintly buzzes with humanity.
In addition to spanning a range of printmaking techniques, this exhibition runs the gamut of human expression with social and political currents woven throughout. One wall, for example, could easily be titled "The Other." Marsha Burns' poster-size photogravure of a resplendent Native American man, "Tyson, Warm Springs, Oregon," is surrounded by smaller pieces like Dennis Cunningham's "Pesca Cabeza No. 7," a linocut that reminds of tribal tattooing. The inclusion of works like Jose Guadalupe Posada's "Calavera de las Elecciones Presidenciales" lend a political edge, however, as this and other arrangements hint at the power of the media to go beyond mere representation.
If the "medium is the message," then this work is not meant to simply be admired on an aesthetic level; there are stories being told here and commentaries being offered in the way images have been so artfully chosen and arranged. A print of weeping women, including Christ's mother, is at the center of a cross-shaped arrangement just inside the gallery entrance. Georges Rouault's modernist, rough-hewn Christ contrasts beautifully with a 1649 engraving of Christ, each of which flanks the central image of the weeping women. The top of the cross is another Rouault, "his counsel, in hollow phrases, proclaims his complete indifference," with its eyes cast upward, while at the bottom of the cross is Celia Calderon's "Head of a Girl," with her wide-eyes and heavy, stylized hands clasped almost in prayer (or are they covering her mouth?). The viewer is meant to read significance into not only the images themselves, but their juxtaposition to each other.
This didactic element, when combined with the obvious love of the medium, is a tribute to Jundt Museum director and curator Scott Patnode, a former printmaking instructor. Of the 175 prints, the Museum owns 158 of them, yet, according to Patnode, this exhibition of prints represents roughly 8 percent of the entire collection. The work is hung "salon style," meaning artwork covers nearly every bit of wall space, with larger pieces surrounded by smaller. Pieces on each wall are formally balanced so that sizes of frames and values, colors or styles masterfully complement each other -- no small feat. The exhibit required a month to process, frame and hang. Sometimes frames are allowed to touch, as in the Christ tableau. With little space left for captions, the images are numbered (not necessarily in order) and cross-referenced in a catalog, which is one of the understandable drawbacks of salon style. While it's maddening to flip back and forth through a catalog, the upside is that the viewer is required to focus on the work itself, not its provenance.
The potency of this exhibition, like human expression itself, is vast and complex, and not to be undone by words; you need to see it firsthand. As German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, "It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us."
"Face to Face" continues through April 2 at Gonzaga University's Jundt Art Museum, open weekdays 10 am-4 pm, Saturday noon-4 pm. Free. Visit www.gonzaga.edu or call 323-6613.