No Face, No case: Portraiture’s Breaking

A Review of the New Show in the Cooley Gallery

If there isn’t a face, there most likely isn’t a case. This saying, a false one, has circulated criminal justice subreddits, rap music, and the worldwide web of pornography since the early 2000s. The gallery “No Face, No case: Portraiture’s Breaking (1990-2005)” provides evidence for the falsified nature of the term “no face, no case” and the discomfort surrounding humanity in the wake of growing and changing generations. And there is undoubtedly discomfort. 

Photo by Allie Braun

Photo by Allie Braun

Ironically enough, walking into Reed’s Cooley Gallery the first thing anyone notices is the moderately liberal media company, CNN, playing out loud on a loop. However, the loop is not a typical CNN story. Instead, the artist cherry-picked different words spoken by various newscasters of CNN to create new phrases that evoke a sense of suffering, pain, and upset. While watching the 18 minute video play, the CNN broadcast’s janky tone, storyline, and phrasing is upsetting and creates feelings of dystopia while exploring the gallery. It also invokes nostalgia for the old, famous YouTube channel “baracksdubs,” which strings together President Obama’s words to make a random song. The gallery is similarly filled with moderately uncomfortable and intense paintings and displays that portray individuals who pushed themselves past limits until a momentary collapse or breakdown. To clarify, writing a Humanities 110 paper in one night does not constitute “pushing past limits.” 

Additional themes include the loss and impact of childhood innocence, sexual exploitation and desires, the negative influence of religion, and the criminal justice system. The referenced art piece, a woman holding a cigarette, follows a few of these themes. For example, the phrases “does god Love me” and “if I’m possessed” reflect the holds of religion, signs of family trauma, and a fear of change. This art piece is obviously up for subjective interpretation (art history and English majors take it away); however, various stories are told throughout the gallery, depending on the artist’s collection. Many of the photos in the gallery communicate a strong theme of pain and fear through the art of human subordination, sex, and the complicated nature of living. Displays of stuffed bunnies carrying coffins and propped-up toy dolls portraying the loss of childhood innocence are alarming, confusing, and sentimental. Yeah, and stereotypically said: anyone could prop up a stuffed bunny carrying a coffin, but you didn’t.  

However, one must attend the show, “No Face, No case: Portraiture’s Breaking,”to receive the full effect of discomfort, the CNN loop, and the vulnerability of the human condition displayed. The gallery moves in a clockwise rotation and engages the spectator with multiple narratives on fragility, instability, resilience, and power at every glance.

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2 years ago

Yeah but I wish the gallery moved counterclockwise. Don’t you think that would add to the effect of discomfort?

2 years ago

Great article. I can almost imagine the gallery based on your detailed descriptions.


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