Arne Svenson, a New York photographer working in collaboration with The Warhol, created a series of portraits on view in the exhibition About Face. In February 2011, Svenson was the artist-in-residency at Pittsburgh’s Wesley Spectrum Highland, an Approve Private School for students with special needs, grades 4 – 12. Svenson’s residency, which led to this exhibition, is part of an ongoing partnership with Svenson, The Warhol, the Cognitive Psychology Department at the University of Victoria, British Colombia, and Wesley Spectrum Highland. The goal of this partnership is to improve autistic youth’s communication skills by developing and piloting activities that utilize Warhol’s portraits and the practice of contemporary portrait artists to teach facial recognition skills to students within the autism spectrum.
The exhibition features three-dimensional, large-format photographs which are fixed open at a 55 degree angle, and mounted directly the gallery walls. From one perspective the viewer sees only a neutral portrait of the student, while from the other angle one views an open spread, which reveals an expressive image of the student and an accompanying emotional motivator. Motivators range from an image of a birthday party to a spider. For Svenson, “the photo sessions with the students were not only central to the final project, but the time we spent working together became an essential component of the process and learning experience. They responded well, engaged beautifully, and, as I told each one as he or she left the studio, are the true stars of this project.”