Franz Xaver Messerschmidt
Vexed Man, after 1770.
(German, 1736–1783). Alabaster.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Source: Getty Museum
The intriguing series of heads that are collectively known as Character Heads, created by the German Baroque artist Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783) during the last 13 years of his life, have become increasingly popular with the general public through a series of recent exhibitions and books devoted to these expressive works. Furthermore, the sculptures, depicting various states of emotion and expression, have also captured the imaginations of generations of artists—especially during the 20th and 21st centuries.
"Messerschmidt and Modernity" is the first exhibition to explore the contemporary legacy of these surprisingly modern-looking sculptures, which were carved in alabaster, or cast in a lead or tin alloy. Along with Messerschmidt’s works, the exhibition features a selection of modern and contemporary works of art that testify to the lasting impact of these astonishing heads. Eight Character Heads will be exhibited—among them the Getty’s own Vexed Man— along with a newly discovered reduced variation of a now-lost Character Head known as A Cheeky Nitpicky Mocker, which has never before been exhibited publically. Contemporary artists featured in the exhibition include Tony Bevan, Tony Cragg, Ken Gonzales-Day, Bruce Nauman, Pierre Picot, Arnulf Rainer, Cindy Sherman, and Emily Young.
“Messerschmidt’s Character Heads have appealed to audiences since they were first produced. They were especially popular in turn-of-the-century Vienna and subsequently inspired modern artists of the 20th century,” explains Antonia Boström, senior curator of sculpture and decorative arts at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Now, this unparalleled series of sculptures is enjoying a renewed popularity—not only fascinating to museum audiences and scholars, but compelling for contemporary artists.”