Art show brings hockey photos to life

By Christine Gosselin

It’s always exciting to watch a player rip a quick wrister on the ice of a noisy arena, but a New London, Conn., art exhibition offers a different kind of snapshot.

The Lyman Allyn Art Museum opened a new show on April 10, 2011 – “Face Off: Portraits by Contemporary Artists” – that has become the main spring attraction. The exposition includes hockey photography by George Kalinsky, executive photographer of the Madison Square Garden in New York, works from the museum’s permanent collection and portraits borrowed from guest artists such as Kiki Smith, Chuck Close and Jim Dine.

The show features a wide-array of focuses, from self-portraiture to portraits addressing stages of life and portraits of non-human objects. According to museum guest curator, Barbara Zabel, artists are increasingly turning to portraiture to explore the multifaceted aspects of identity and this genre has recently assumed a central role in the art world.

Museum director of communications, Susan Hendricks, acknowledged the inspiration that came from the duality of the phrase “face off.”

“Face off meaning the confrontation, if you will, between the artist and the subject,” Hendricks said. “They ‘face off’ across the camera or canvas. (It’s) a pun intended for portraiture and an actual phrase defining activity in hockey.”

The term “face off” plays a key part in portraiture as it represents the face-to-face encounter between the artist and the model as well as the relation between viewer and the work of art. In hockey, of course, it signals a key, sometimes crucial, moment in competition.

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One of the seven galleries is dedicated to the hockey photography of Kalinsky, who has lent the museum many large scaled photographs of players, including Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky and Henrik Lundqvist.

Among the many images, the iconic shot of Mark Messier jumping up and down like a little kid at Madison Square Garden gets a lot of attention, though a six-foot wide photo of Scott Gomez is the centerpiece. The NHL also contributed to the exhibition, providing pucks from every team and various other pieces of hockey memorabilia, including uniforms, facemasks and sticks.

Hendricks is pleased with the public reception to the entire exhibit, on display through Sept. 18, 2011. Children, she said, really love the close-up photographs of hockey players they are familiar with, while parents look back and fondly remember their favorite sports icons.

“I love the Gordie Howe image,” Hendricks said. “My brothers both played hockey and I remember watching Gordie Howe play on TV.”

The museum plans on welcoming former and current NHL players in September to let them explore first-hand the genre of portraiture.

Providing yet another level to the face off.