Maxim Wakultschik has a one-track mind -- he likes faces. They cover every piece of artwork in his fourth solo show up at Anya Tish Gallery, and have been mostly dominant in the shows preceding it. To the German-based artist, "nothing is as interesting as faces." And whether you agree or not, Wakultschik also does some pretty interesting things with them.
On one side of the gallery you have 3-D wooden objects titled Multipersonality that feature two alternating faces painted onto these grooves. As you go from one side of the piece to the next, the faces change, like a hologram. Except this is all done with oil and wood, so the effect is even more unexpected, if a little cheap looking. On the other side you have more wooden works, each one comprised of more than 60 small angled blocks arranged into a black, gold or silver square. Each block has the outline of a face drawn in graphite which you have to get close up to see. It's a small payoff in the end, but is structurally interesting to look at, especially with all three pieces lined up in a row.
The most compelling works in the show, appropriately titled "FaceTime," are a series of painted portraits boxed behind Plexiglas that look like floating heads. They are jaw-dropping, the types of pieces that elicit a "wow" from gallery-goers. Starting with a photograph, Wakultschik paints and draws on his portrait before curving it behind a sheet of Plexiglas, resulting in a 3-D, luminous effect. They look like they're glowing from within, but no lighting is involved.
There are nearly a dozen of these portraits in the show, the most impressive of which is the massive Anastasia. The piece takes up the back wall and the red lips -- the only source of color that's not black or white -- immediately draw you in. Though the closer you get to it, the blurrier it gets, so it is best viewed from a distance. Wakultschik also doesn't offer any clues as to how he achieves his floating-head effect; the sides of the box are blocked off, obscuring the magic at play.
Smaller 3-D portraits like this one featured prominently in the show are arranged in a colorful grid. Each person has his or her own pop of color, like a monochrome Andy Warhol. Unlike the generic model used in Anastasia, these portraits are of people you'll likely recognize -- renowned 20th- and 21st-century artists like Chuck Close, Frida Kahlo, Robert Rauschenberg and Basquiat. There's a little cheat sheet on the gallery price list to help clue you in to who's who, but they are pretty distinct and full of expression to help identify each one.
Homages are tricky -- by directly referencing the work (or, as in this case, likeness) of a great influential artist, you set yourself up for an unfair comparison. But lucky for Wakultschik, these works are visually striking, different and fresh while conveying an intriguing range of influences, too. The only person missing is Warhol himself, but maybe that would have been a bit too on the nose.
"Maxim Wakultschik: FaceTime" at Anya Tish Gallery, 4411 Montrose Boulevard, runs now through April 20. For more information, call 713-524-2299 or visit www.anyatishgallery.com.
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