It was with these "hands of the famous" shots that the significance of the collection's subject matter really began to register for me. Looking at the hands of Henry Moore, for example, inevitably suggests the great sculptures that came to life in those hands, just as Miles Davis' hand brings to mind the trumpet it held and the magnificent sounds that emanated from it. Seen in this light, the hands, almost as much as the eyes, become fleshy links to the souls of their subjects. Ordinary acts such as shaking hands or holding hands take on a new level of intimacy. Surely it's not meaningless coincidence that no two sets of fingerprints are identical.
The photographs in the Norton version of the show are supplemented by a small batch of sculptures that weren't present at the Guggenheim. They're scattered judiciously through the galleries, and they add a lot to the presentation by bringing the subject matter into three dimensions. The standouts are George Segal's sensuous bronze with white patina Fragment: Venus Gesture (1986); Louise Bourgeois' Give or Take (1902), which puts a pair of bronze hands at either end of the same arm; and Slaughter (1997), in which Ann Hamilton belies her violent title by placing a delicate glove made of silk organza and cotton in a glass display case.
The "Brown Bomber"'s bomb: Joe Louis, Prize Fighter, New York City, October 3, 1963, by Richard Avedon
"A Show of Hands: Photographs and Sculpture From the Buhl Collection"
On display through March 25 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.
I wish the Norton had been able to snag at least a few more of the photographs that were part of the Guggenheim's staging of the exhibition, which included more than 170 works. I also wish the catalog essay, by original project curator Jennifer Blessing, were a little less academic, not to mention a little less fond of tossing around words like indexical. (Sample sentence: "It is through the logic of the fetish that the fragmentation of the hand, like collecting itself and like photography, also suggests a kind of obsessional denial of death.") Even so, "A Show of Hands" is not only artistically satisfying but also a great deal of fun.