Face Value

Prints, Drawings & Watercolours from the School of Art Collection
20 February – 30 March 2012

An exhibition curated by students as part of their BA Museum & Gallery Studies

Face Value?

‘It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us,’ the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once remarked.  Face Value encourages such chance encounters.  Many of these works on paper from the School of Art collection are presented here for the first time. Most have never been shown side by side.

This themed exhibition explores various acts of reading: our interpretation of facial features, our attempts to work out the relationships between appearances and mental or emotional states, between character and physical characteristics, as well as between artist, sitter and ourselves.

In 1868, Charles Darwin conducted an informal experiment to demonstrate that humans have a universal set of facial expressions. An anatomist stimulated a subject’s facial muscles with electrodes in order to elicit expressions of anxiety, sadness, and joy.  The expressions were captured in a series of photographs that Darwin showed to his dinner guests, inviting them to guess the subject’s emotional state.  Are our responses predictable? Are faces quite this easy to read?

Face Value is itself the product of an experiment.  It was conceived in a classroom, in workshops designed to debate or refute the value of interpretive texts written for museums.  Do we look at and judge a self-portrait of a named artist as we do an anonymous, faceless study of a head? Does knowledge about artist or sitter influence our appreciation? What is the curator’s role in aiding or informing our ‘encounter’ with works of art?

‘Who sees the human face correctly,’ Picasso asked, ‘the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?’ Our various guides to interpretation are meant to suggest that there is no ‘correct’ reading and that works of art cannot be taken at face value.

Contributors: Rosie Eastwood, Harry Heuser, Neil Holland, Corryn Kosik, Jennifer Loffman, Gemma Meek, Robert Meyrick, Ben Partridge, Samantha Shaw, Jack Suckley