Art: Close Encounters

Throughout his career, Chuck Close has focused on faces. What he shows is more than skin deep

The great 19th century French realist Gustave Courbet once said that an artist ought to be able to render something--a distant pile of sticks, say, in a field--without actually knowing what it was. The hyperrealist Chuck Close has gone one better than that. In 1971 he painted the face of his father-in-law Nat Rose. The huge, minutely detailed likeness was bought by a Maryland collector who lent it to the Whitney Museum in New York City. There it was seen by an ophthalmologist who, not sure whether he was intruding or not, got a message to Close. Did he know that...

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