Masterful Faces: Portraits Across Two Centuries

11 Apr 2024 – 1 Jun 2024

Regular hours

10:30 – 18:30
10:30 – 18:30
10:30 – 18:30
10:30 – 18:30
10:30 – 18:30

Save Event: Masterful Faces: Portraits Across Two Centuries

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Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself,” Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

“Faces of Time: Portraits Across Two Centuries” is an exhibition examining the usage of portraits across history. This exhibition will attempt to capture the diverse history of portraiture in the last two hundred years, guiding viewers through century-spanning changes in the genre. “Faces of Time” questions how the identities of both artist and sitter take form in art; affected by culture, ethnic background, gender, and sexual orientation.

As Oscar Wilde once mused in his iconic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, portraiture is a reflection not just of the sitter, but also of the artist. This sentiment forms the thematic cornerstone of our exhibition, which explores the evolution of portraiture over the past two hundred years, examining how identities—both of the artist and the subject—are molded by societal norms, gender dynamics, and personal narratives. Through a diverse selection of works spanning various mediums and styles, "Faces of Time" seeks to provoke contemplation on the profound psychological, sociological, and historical dimensions of portraiture.

The exhibition features an eclectic array of artists who have left an indelible mark on the genre. The exhibition begins with some of Wilde’s colleagues, such as James McNeill Whistler with his portrait of Ellen Sturgis Hooper and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, with his gritty portrayals of Parisian nightlife. The exhibition examines the depth of the human condition, with portraits from Toulouse-Lautrec, Lorenzo Viani, and Balthus confronting motifs of prostitution, sexuality, youth, mental illness, and provocation.

The exhibition looks into portraiture in connection with African-Americans, exploring representations of race and marginalization. Featured artists include Joshua Johnson, the first documented African- American portrait artist, and Fedor Encke, who depicts a young Black woman in his portrait. Tintyping is also featured, which is a photography technique used before and during the Civil War that documented many formerly enslaved people; and were potentially the first instances of African-Americans to recreate their own likenesses. Faith Ringgold, known for her artwork addressing racial and gender equality, uses a tanka to depict the systemic gendered violence that existed in slavery.

How portraits are represented is also considered, as artists experiment with interpretations of the human form. Artists such as Ed Paschke and Lucas Samaras use chemicals, technology, and abstraction to create distortions, while Robert Lostutter fuses elements of man and machine to present elements of Surrealism. Joseph Stella leaves his portrait open-ended, allowing viewers to assign their own identity to subjects.

As portraiture progressed into the 20th century, artists became concerned with formal techniques to express the psychology of their sitters rather than exact likenesses. Marisol uses woodwork to create a portrait of Willem de Kooning, imbuing the object with a sense of intimacy, while Elaine de Kooning looks to capture the psychological picture of her subject. Mia Westerlund Roosen, another contemporary of Marisol and the de Koonings, creates a more abstract sculptural portrait, where fleshy and visceral elements dive into a psychological realm of eroticism and repulsion. Teresa Burga and Eric Fischl examine their relations to the art world; Burga creates a figure drowning in the media-fixated world around her while Fischl paints himself attending an art fair, creating a sense of derealization and
dissatisfaction with the art world at large.

Resembling the social commentary that resulted from The Picture of Dorian Gray, contemporary art uses portraiture to critique notions of pure representation, exploring the context of social issues molded under a technological and media-obsessed worldview. Alex Katz looks to capture candid portraits of his family and friends, notably those within the art scene, while Lois Dodd and Freiman respond to the hustle culture of the present day and provide responses through American calmness and serenity. George Condo provides a stark outlook on the American future, while Srijon Chowdhury, in the figurative style of Katz and Dodd, demonstrates the warmth of motherhood. Conversations on gender and sexuality are continued with pieces from John Singer Sargent and Gerda Wegener. While both were popular within their generation, both have found a contemporary cult-following
due to a modern lens on their personal lives unveiling their queer identities. To view these paintings, Madame Comtesse Jacques de Ganay and Jeanne, through this lens is to see the artist’s relationships with femininity, gender-identity, and the homophobic society that surrounded them.

Shuyi Cao forces viewers to confront the alteration of natural form through man-made creations with her mixed-medium sculptures and installations. While her piece flows naturally, utilizing wood, rock, and shells, it juxtaposes these natural materials with plastic and trash, posing questions on humanity’s effect on the natural world around us, and how humans alter the order of matter. By examining portraiture over the course of history, one can see how the intimacy of humanity is captured and embodied across various periods of time. While archival in nature, portraiture also takes on the
conversations and culture of each generation through the perspective of the sitter, while represented by the interpretation of the artist. Consider the exhibition as an examination of human identity in the form of art.

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