Critics’ Picks

View of “Roman Tolici,” 2009.

View of “Roman Tolici,” 2009.


Roman Tolici

Brunnenstraße 152 (entrance backyard, 2nd passage left)
February 6–March 28, 2009

It takes a long moment to register the identity of the clean-shaven fellow in Roman Tolici’s Adolf, one of forty smooth-faced men presented in the Romanian painter’s 2008 “Barber Shop” series of small black-and-white watercolor portraits hanging in the gallery’s main room. Erasing history’s most infamous mustache from Hitler’s face is not the most remarkable aspect of the show, however. More striking is the cumulative effect of seeing feared and admired male cultural icons of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, all without facial hair.

“Barber Shop” is installed salon-style throughout the gallery’s main room and outshines its companion series, “Action,” 2008–2009. These large photorealist paintings of children running, skipping, and otherwise in motion demonstrates the various problems of illustrating physical states of flux and capturing the constant changes of childhood. While “Action” struggles with the challenge of representing movement in pictures, “Barber Shop” raises more intriguing questions about movements in fashion, history, and assumptions about personal integrity.

The emergence of untamed beards on today’s youth marks the return of facial hair for fashionable men, even though it is no longer the norm for those who are distinguished or mature. But does seeing Che Guevara and Fidel Castro fresh-faced lower their credibility as tough and commanding revolutionary figures? And while George Orwell’s mustache hardly had as much political portent as Castro’s beard, why does seeing Orwell without it somehow render his face meek, less knowing, and less authoritative? With levity, wit, and unexpected emotional depth, Tolici’s show invites us to imagine how masculinity should appear to us today, as well as to speculate about how that look will mutate tomorrow.