Mind the Gap: Chuck Close on the Q at 86th St

Emma , Hand-glazed Ceramic, 2017

(Yes I am commenting about Close’s # MeToo moment –but at the end.)

What the hell? Why is this station so big?
It would have been perfect at La Guardia or JFK. And what with the signal failures and other delays, few will want to make a special trip to see it.

Which would be a pity, because twelve of Close’s works have been made into mosaic murals and installed here. The work is different than other subway art; they aren’t decorative (not that there is anything wrong with that), they aren’t cute or clever, they aren’t about the neighborhood and though ethnically diverse not particularly about that. Two of them are masterpieces and two don’t work as mosaics at all but taken as a whole they are an intense exploration into the phenomenon of visual recognition in general and facial recognition in particular.

I wonder if anyone has ever tried running them through facial recognition software?

“Emma” (detail left eye)

Emma is brilliantly sited. It can be seen at quite a distance and draws you toward it with its baby charm. And you must walk toward it to exit the turnstiles and get to the escalators. Of course the closer you get, the less recognizable the image becomes and I find this intensely pleasurable; it upends my intuition that in order to see clearly I must move closer.

“Alex” (hand glazed bisque) 2017

Alex is the other beautiful surprise of the series. The original work is a reduction block print, more widely known as linoleum block. There is no regular grid in the image. The type of mosaic, a hand glazed bisque, is crisp and glittery and splintering. The image shatters and re-forms itself even when seen close-up.

“Alex” (detail mouth)


“In psychology and cognitive neuroscience, pattern recognition describes a cognitive process that matches information from a stimulus with information retrieved from memory” (Wikipedia)

“Sienna” stained glass micro-mosaic, 2017

The two murals that don’t work at all are Chuck in a Yellow Raincoat and Sienna. They read as celebrity portraits in a fashion magazine created by a mosaicizing app– if there is such a thing. The stones are beautiful and glittery but it doesn’t help, there are no surprises when viewed from afar or near. They seem to illustrate another side of recognizing—the one that stops you from looking any further.


“Sienna” (detail left eye)


“Zhan Yuan” hand glazed ceramic, 2017

Of the other mosaics Zhan… is particularly noteworthy. Seen from a distance coming down the stairs and going directly toward it to get to the turnstile, it is contrasty and dramatic. Up close, it is simple, elegant and the colors are unexpectedly muted.


“Zhan Yuan” (detail right eye)


“Self-Portrait” Hand-glazed ceramic, 2017

And this self- portrait, which can’t be seen at any great distance and never would resolve into looking like a photograph anyway, uses a different form of recognition, one that takes a continuous mental effort to hold it together.


Chuck Close is an important artist and should not have his shows cancelled. But when he said he was “being crucified” I had to laugh. What a bully.

To the women who thought Close might paint their portrait, I’m confused: He only paints his family and famous artists, why would he suddenly paint you?

To Close: I admire your desire to have a sexual life. I do. It is inspiring. But ‘auditioning’ and sexual pleasure don’t go together. You are auditioning genitalia? It’s pathetic. Why not be honest about your desires, throw yourself on the mercy and generosity of a woman and be kind and admiring?  If your desire is to manipulate trusting women, humiliate them and flip them a hundred dollar bill or two, then surprise!–they told on you.

Close has a blind spot and it’s not called prosopagnosia.



P.S.  Wil S. Hylton wrote an article about Close in the NYT (see below). In 2016, Close filed for divorce and left Bridgehampton and went to live in Long Beach. The author thinks that might be crazy. Actually leaving Bridgehampton for Long Beach sounds very sane. I also love what he says about urging fellow artists to paint their own work, his frustration at the stupidity of deskilling, his desire to paint till the end and his admiration for late Matisse and late De Kooning.

*The Mysterious Metamorphosis of Chuck Close, Wil S. Hylton, July 13, 2016, NYT