Thursday, January 17, 2013

Portraiture is dead, again.

Jeffrey Augustine Songco has a post up at the art:21 blog called "The End of Self Portraiture." The idea-- that self-portraiture is "dunzo" because it wasn't represented at Miami Basel*-- is pretty silly, but the run-down of the contemporary high-art self portrait is pretty good. I noticed the focus was on photographs, but painted self-portraits could also have been mentioned, such as Jenny Saville's.

I would add only one group: the melding of the self portrait with "identity politics," i.e. asking, who am I as a Cuban-African woman? or what gender am I? These sorts of issues are usually explored through self-portraiture, but as sort of an inside-out approach where the viewer is presented with how the artist is seen, rather than simply seeing the artist.

Self portrait as an African Chief by Samuel Fosso. Detailed description follows in caption.
Samuel Fosso, self portrait as an African chief. Photograph. Says Fosso of this self-portrait, "I am all the African chiefs who have sold their continent to the white me." [Image: Fosso, a youngish black man, sits in a chair in front of a backdrop of kente cloth panels, a yellow panel surrounded by black and white panels with large ovals on them. He holds several large sunflowers in one hand, the other draped regally over the arm of the ornate Western-style chair, which is upholstered with leopard print. He wears a leopard-print garment (sarong?) on his bottom half and is topless, but his chest is covered by a mass of gold necklaces. He wears bracelets and rings on his hands and a half-white half-carmel fur hat shaped like a ski hat. His eyes are obscured by thick white-rimmed glasses with narrow slits instead of large lenses. The pose is calm and formal yet relaxed.]

And then there is the vast army of self portraits by women who grapple with being seen, being objectified, and manipulating one's own image. I'm showing the legendary Ana Mendieta's work below which is old, but she was ahead of her time and this sort of stuff is still very current (I'll take any excuse to show her work).

Ana Mendieta, self portrait. Detailed description follows in caption.
Ana Mendieta, "Facial hair transplant," 1972. Photograph. [Image: head-and-shoulders photo of the female artist wearing a brown beard staring into the camera.]

Ana Mendieta, self portrait. Detailed description follows in caption.
Ana Mendieta, "Untitled, Glass on Body Imprints-- Face" 1972. Photograph. [Image: grainy black and white photo of Mendieta's face pressed against glass, her lips huge and distorted]

Those two groups are quite contemporary and relevant, but even without them, considering both the youth and the egos that emerge from art school every year, I just don't see self portraiture going anywhere. Even if Facebook and the like have challenged the fine art establishment to differentiate its portraiture from the common "selfie," particularly photographers, that's really more of a rebirth than a death of the self-portrait.

*Self-portrait artists: before you rend your garments and cast yourself into the sea, please consider that the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery , MoMA, New York City’s National Academy Museum, and The Whitney have all managed to caugh up major exhibits containing self-portraiture in or near 2012, to name just a few.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The only thing that's truly dead and has always BEEN dead are statements like:
{insert word} is dead...

Relax, art is a LIVING thing it has NOTHING to do with trends and movements, if art starts worrying about how it fits into a particular fad then it will really die.