In Newport, two great buildings are playing host to a provocative new exhibition. On view at the Isaac Bell House and Rosecliff mansion through October 2, “Pictus Porrectus: Reconsidering the Full-Length Portrait” engages 22 artists—among them John Currin, Sally J. Han, Dennis Kardon, Deana Lawson, Aliza Nisenbaum, Nicolas Party, Celia Paul, Elizabeth Peyton, Umar Rachid, and Aleksandra Waliszewska—in a compelling examination of identity, the figure, and the history and conventions of Western art itself.
Presented by Art & Newport, a program established by Vogue contributing editor Dodie Kazanjian in 2017 to buoy Newport as a hub for contemporary art (previous shows include last summer’s “In the Waves,” addressing the world’s rising sea levels, and Piotr Uklanski’s haunting “Suicide Stunners’ Séance” at the Belmont Chapel in 2020), “Pictus Porrectus” is a conversation about the full-length portrait and its long association with status and power, a subject Kazanjian had been thinking about for many years. She invited her friend Alison M. Gingeras—whose groundbreaking 2002 show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, “‘Dear Painter, paint me …’: Painting the Figure Since Late Picabia,” echoed her own fascination with the evolution of that genre over the centuries—to be her co-curator.
“A new generation of artists, who are now basically the establishment, were coming up and interrogating all of these prohibitions around portraiture,” Gingeras explains—people like Currin, Peyton, and Alex Katz, all of whom Kazanjian had been following with interest. “So I guess we’ve stuck to our passions, and this show is really the fruit of 20 years of friendship and shared interest.”
“There was a bit of an upstairs, downstairs dynamic” to the installation, Gingeras notes. “We were thinking about how downstairs was really more of the public part of a house, especially at the turn of the century. So a formal portrait of children”—like Creole Brother and Sister, 2022, by the New Orleans–based Andrew LaMar Hopkins—“makes sense there.” McKinniss’s 2018 painting of Jennifer Lopez is in the former drawing room, and in the dining room, which reminded Gingeras and Kazanjian of a library, is Hall’s The Autodidact. The show’s nudes—by John Currin, Albert York, Jenna Gribbon, and sculptor Ruby Neri—are all upstairs, in the house’s more intimate spaces: Mr. and Mrs. Bell’s bedrooms, the sleeping porch.
Taken together, the show marvels in both a “multi-century dialogue across the genre,” as Gingeras puts it, and in a bold glimpse at the future of figuration—and its greatest proponents. “Toyin [Ojih Odutola] isn’t in the show, but she, of course, would also be on my mind,” says Kazanjian. “She imagines into the future. She imagines what the full-length body, what the life of the figure, is in today’s society. The work is fictional, but it’s not looking back—it’s a look at now and forward. And I think we see more and more of that.”
The Isaac Bell House is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Rosecliff is open daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.