Saturday, January 19, 2013

Evan Penny: Re Figured at the AGO

Stretch #1 - Evan Penny
(owned by the AGO)
Our last stop at the AGO on Thursday was at the Evan Penny: Re Figured exhibition in the Contemporary Art section on the fourth floor. I've been trying to decide how to accurately describe what this show was like; I've concluded that the best thing to do is to show several photos that I took, comment on how they made me feel at the time of viewing, and let you, the reader, check out the AGO's description of the exhibition and Evan Penny's own website for more detailed information with respect to his intent. What I can tell you is that Penny has taken the realistic sculpture techniques of Duane Hanson to a whole new level. The pieces challenge the idea of what is "real" to the viewer; some of them—such as Stretch #1, seen here—are done in kind of a "Photoshop in real time" method, where the dimensions are skewed and manipulated while maintaining the original aspect ratio, such as one would do with a photograph. In other cases, Penny creates a completely fictional person (using no model) in hyper-realistic form and then photographs the sculpture, posting these photos next to the pieces themselves. In most of these instances, it is almost impossible to tell—after the conversion to 2D—that the "person" in the photos has never existed. (I found that the effect was the greatest in black and white photos.) In still other cases, Penny has used real-life models and recreated them in incredible detail, right down to blemishes, age spots and stray wisps of hair.

Here is an example of a sculpture with no associated living model and the photo that resulted from it:

This person doesn't exist....
...and yet, here he is on film

My apologies for the flash reflection on the photo. I didn't notice how strong it was until I got home. That aside, it was nearly impossible to tell—even blown up to poster size and with the viewer standing right in front of it—that this photo was of someone who wasn't real. Amazing stuff.

One of the rooms at the exhibition contained several sculptures that were all done using the same original bust:

This is the same bust... this

The explanation of the process
(click to expand and read)

And here is the photo Penny took of one of the busts. I still feel this doesn't give the impression of being a photo of a real person nearly as strongly as the black and white photo did:

Photo of the male bust

Here are a series of photos of a single sculpture, taken at various levels of zoom:

Do any of them seem like they are photos of a real person? I think the second one, with the moderate zoom, is pretty close.

I'm going to conclude this post with an assortment of shots of other Penny pieces in the exhibition. I cannot overstate how eerie this show was; appropriately, in an exhibition of sculptures in a "hyper-realistic" style, I think the best description of how I felt while I attended is...."hyper real". All my Spidey Senses were tingling at the same time. I'm delighted we got to see it, though.

That last piece? By far the creepiest in the entire show. The hair is standing up on my arms and the back of my neck just writing about it here! The exhibition, by the way, runs until February 20th so, unlike the Frida & Diego show, there is still time to catch up with Evan Penny.

And that's the "triptych" of blog posts about our most recent AGO excursion. Thank you for indulging me!


  1. Penny's work is incredibly difficult to capture in photographs, as the scale and the "in person experience" of it is too ethereal to capture in 2 dimensions. I think that "L. Faux", whom I'm standing next to in the above photo, was my favourite.

    1. I agree and I think that, in a way, even extends one of the points he is making. I enjoyed it so much, though, that I might have to go back before it closes!

  2. I saw a show of Penny's many many years ago (in the 1980's) and am impressed by what has changed in his work and what has remained the same. He was doing realist stuff back then and playing with scale, but he wasn't "creating" people who didn't exist. Thanks for this blog about the show. It would have been fun to see in person but your photos and text have done a great job of allowing me to share the experience.

    1. I can't think of a greater compliment than this comment from you. Thank you!

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