Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
The National Portrait Gallery in London has published a compendium of what portraiture means for the 21st century. While the media may be more tech-heavy than previous centuries, the examination of self remains, perhaps with even more questions of what that means than before.
21st Century Portraits, published last fall, compiles 150 images from 50 artists, all created since we rolled over into the aughts. The names don’t hold too many surprises as the heavy hitters of the genre are definitely here — Annie Leibovitz, Gerhard Richter, Lucian Freud, Sophie Calle, Rineke Dijkstra — but together they’re a compelling transection of just over a decade of portraiture.
“Portraiture is often dismissed as an art form mired in the past: deadly dull, deadly old-fashioned, just plan dead, its corpse still reeking mustily of the council chamber, the company boardroom and the smoke of cigars long since extinguished,” art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon atmospherically extolls in his foreword. The National Portrait Gallery itself, as he points out, is rooted in these musty Victorian memories. In 1856 when Prime Minister Lord Palmerston was explaining to the public why the museum should exist, he stated: “there cannot be a greater incentive to mental exertion, to noble actions, to good conduct on the part of the living than for them to see before them the features of those who have done things which are worthy of our admiration.”
The book is segmented into seven strains of portraiture, although it seems a bit unnecessary as no portrait can so cleanly be a “self-portrait” without slipping into “social portrait,” “national identity,” “the body,” or any of the other categories. However, 21st Century‘s strength is the images as a sort of album of how we see ourselves and each other in an age of exponential social media sharing, and when that morality that the National Portrait Gallery was founded on is far from the focus.
There are Craig Wylie’s hyperreal paintings, deceptive in their details that seem almost photographic but have a subjective perspective. Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s grotesque mash-ups of dead animals and trash are represented, their assemblages looking like rubbish until they cast a shadow of life. Michael Landy’s seminal act of destruction is also included as a portrait, where in 2001 he inventoried and systemically annihilated everything he owned. Then there are the shape shifters like Samuel Fosso morphing into Muhammad Ali as Saint Sebastian in Carl Fischer’s iconic portrait, and contemplations on celebrity like Douglas Gordon’s obsessive 2006 capture of Zinedine Zidane in a soccer game where the 17 cameras never left the sports star. Shadi Ghadirian’s striking “Be Colourful” (2002) graces the cover, a selection from her series on women in Iran, showing them obscured by layers of glass and paint.
There’s little definitively stated in this art, everything has an edge of the pensive. People change, wear their faces as fleshy masks, act as who they want to be. Even molecularly speaking, we’re not the same people we were 10 years ago; cells are replaced, memories fade, traumas scar. How you depict a person is like bringing together a string of questions into one evocative statement, and in the 21st century that process is rarely subdued into a dusty old heirloom.
21st-Century Portraits is available from National Portrait Gallery Publications.
From commissions to residencies and fellowships for artists, curators, and teachers, a list of opportunities that artists, writers, and art workers can apply for each month.
It is one thing to be a visionary and another to be one whose work holds your attention for a sustained period of time.
“Following Sonorous Bodies” is available online. The journal also seeks guest editors for themed issues, books, and more, as well as contributors for Issue 8, “Birds & Language.” Proposals are due December 15.
Regardless of which way the camera is pointing, Wearing shows a lively — and altogether merciless — interest in how people choose to tell their own stories.
Feldschuh understands that the actions and interactions of particles can be formulated mathematically but not illustrated visually.
These multimedia works debuting on Voice include a “Death Mechanism” and allow fans to collect the artist’s origin story, told specifically for the metaverse.
Shellyne Rodriguez and Danielle De Jesus powerfully respond to the continued attacks on their neighborhoods with works that validate and uplift elements of everyday urban Latinx life that are usually devalued.
This week, I’ve included a lot of humor because with the recent news on the coronavirus variant, we can all use it.
On December 13, learn about the Sam Fox School’s graduate programs in Visual Art and Illustration & Visual Culture, as well as the university’s competitive financial aid packages.
So legendarily precious and complex are the Fabergé eggs that they have become a byword for insane expenditure.
While performing a piece for Satellite Art Show, Xxavier Edward Carter was approached by a group of officers who threatened him with ten years in prison.
Gerke Dunkhase estimates that only half of the Benin bronzes in Germany are logged on the portal so far, calling the current database a “prototype” of what’s to come.