The newest exhibition by Rose Frantzen at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport is a stunning and overwhelming representation of artistic ingenuity and innovation. The installation of Portrait of Maquoketa: The Dimensional View featured on the third floor of the museum is one that begs a multi sensory experience. Don’t just look, listen and interact with the painted environment.
Upon first entering the gallery you are greeted by a vast collection of 180 masterfully painted portraits of Maquoketa natives. Their piercing gaze and suggestive facial expressions demand your attention and offer a window to an assortment of distinctive personalities each characterized by the carefully painted detail.
Frantzen’s subjects consist of acquaintances, neighbors, and family members of all ages that volunteered to sit for 4 to 6 hours while the artist captured their likeness. Her use of lyrical brush strokes and pinkish skin tones accented by glints of green infuse their soft complexions. One could spend hours investigating the intimate portrayal of people that appear so familiar to any Iowan, and still have an insatiable urge to revisit each portrait.
Originally inspired to pursue this project while observing faces at the grocery store, Frantzen gives life and contemplation to the fleeting moment of locking eyes with a neighbor, or subconsciously noticing a unique feature of a passerby. The individual portraits are framed on panels of varying size suspended vertically from the ceiling. As whole, the works function effectively as a metaphor of how the tight-knit community fits together.
The exhibit, which opens today (10/27) at the Figge Art Museum, was on display at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery from 2009 to 2010. The exhibition, which runs through Jan. 20, 2013, will include a lecture and slideshow by Frantzen at 7 p.m. on Nov. 1 and a portrait demonstration by Frantzen on Nov. 3 from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.
- What: Portrait of Maquoketa: The Dimensional View
- Where: Figge Art Museum, Davenport
- When: Oct. 27 to Jan. 20
For the Figge installation, Frantzen painted a 315-square-foot landscape view of Maquoketa broken up on 34 vertical panels suspended from the ceiling. The portraits transition piece by piece into the sprawling and immersive landscape as the viewer walks around to the reverse side of the panels. What before was a mosaic of faces is now a warm depiction of the hills just outside of Maquoketa. Frantzen uses her superior and thoroughly cultivated artistic abilities to create a relationship between inhabitants and their habitat in this massive painted installation.
Amongst the countless captivating perspectives offered in this exhibition, the most compelling is the view when all of the fragmented landscape panels coalesce and align as one. This is where the viewer’s interaction with the work is most pivotal. From one particular vantage point, the viewer is able to complete the piece with their vision and recognizes the vibrating landscape as a whole. It is here that one can truly appreciate the culmination of astute engineering and artistic precision involved in creating this multidimensional show.
Similar to the portraiture, the sprawling landscape is comprised of such meticulous detail that intimate exploration is essential. Weaving in and out of the panels and discovering every nuance adds to the already interactive experience. The purple sky reflects on the rooftops dotted throughout small town and warm orange tones hit the white houses to perfectly capture the time of day that the artist terms as “the pink moment.” The soft brushstrokes describing the native prairie grass evoke a familiar tactile experience of the Iowa landscape in late autumn or early spring. Again we see a representation of how the intricate detailed vision of the artist functions on a large scale, to form the collective identity of a place.
Accompanying the collection of representational paintings is a sound piece composed by the artist’s brother John Frantzen. Situated at the most advantageous view of the portraits, you will hear the voices of the townspeople featured in the painting. On the opposite side of the room will be another original composition piece adding to the richness of the landscape panorama.
The dimensional view speaks to the value of the museum experience and the necessity of viewing artwork in person. Although we have seen the midwestern landscape articulated by countless Iowan artists, Frantzen brings a refreshingly innovative and interdisciplinary approach to the subject matter that surrounds many of us. Using her refined visual language, she heightens our awareness and appreciation of recognizing the complexities of the bigger picture.
– Meghan Bean
Meghan Bean is an adjunct professor of Drawing and Art History at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids. She recently received her MFA in Visual Art from Washington University in Saint Louis and is a practicing artist working primarily in painting and drawing.