Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Bergman

Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Bergman

Article excerpt



Robert Bergman's closely framed portraits of men and women exhibit finely choreographed relationships among color, spatial definition, and mood. Seen together, the pictures form a "gorgeous mosaic," to use former New York City mayor David Dinkins's felicitous phrase celebrating demographic diversity.

Bergman's subjects are strangers ("I know most of them for minutes"), and they fall within a broad spectrum of race, age, ethnicity, and economic class. The photographer has a fascination with the expressiveness of skin texture and tonality, as well as with bone structure (rarely have clavicles seemed so intriguing). He also favors the distinct and unusual physiognomy reminiscent of some of Diane Arbus's subjects, though Bergman eschews Arbus's air of fetishized freakishness, dwelling instead on the contours of the face in order to reveal the physical expression of emotion.


In most of Bergman's works, the subject is revealed by his or her gaze. Untitled, 1994, for example, portrays a slender young man with close-cropped hair, beard, and mustache, an aquiline nose, and blue eyes that stare resolutely. Compositionally and atmospherically, the work recalls Petrus Christus's Portrait of a Lady, ca. 1470, in its simple yet declarative use of form and color, and in its treatment of the subject as both an object in space and an emotionally complex, perhaps vulnerable person. Contrasting textures of skin, clothing, and hair amplify the mood of Untitled, 1989, in which a grizzled, seated male with a circumspect gaze clutches two books. He appears tightly wound, ready to spring out of the picture plane. Other times, Bergman captures individuals seemingly at a moment of transfiguration, such as the grimy man in filthy clothing in Untitled, 1998. With his head titled heavenward and eyes shut, he appears to be shedding everything corporeal. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.