“About Face” exhibit explores self-portraits in modern art

by Amelia Rosch | 2/1/15 6:30pm

Faces stare out from the walls of the Hood Museum of Art, from a grotesquely elongated and detailed blue face to a woman shooting a water gun directly at the viewer to a series of people mimicking riding a bus, all of whom are portrayed by the same woman. The one thing that connects all the pieces, which come from 18 different artists, is that they are self-portraits, part of the Hood’s “About Face: Self-Portraiture in Contemporary Art” exhibit, which opened at this weekend.

“About Face” includes self -portraits by a variety of well-known contemporary artists, including Chuck Close, Nikki S. Lee and Cindy Sherman.

Hood Museum intern Laura Dorn ’15, who helped to organize the show, said that director of the Hood Museum and curator for the show Michael Taylor had chosen the pieces used in the exhibit before the fall. She said that the planning for these types of shows happens months before the shows begin.

Dorn said that her role in the exhibit was to help make labels for the pieces and determine where they would be physically located in the gallery.

“What was really cool was when [Taylor] had all the works in the gallery space and trying to decide how to group pieces together, which ones worked well together on the wall, which ones fit in what room,” she said. “I got to be a part of that process.”

She said that when she and Taylor were laying out the show, they considered things like the size and medium of the pieces, as well as how pieces physically fit into the gallery space.

“Certain pieces that relate to each other really well and had similar themes that have a nice dialogue with each other, we put them on the wall together,” Dorn said.

Dorn said that she enjoyed the layout of the back room of the exhibit, which included photographic series by Sherman, Wendy Red Star and Martín Gutierrez. The pieces by Sherman come from her collection “Bus Riders” and show her modeling as various people that she saw riding a local bus, including the bus driver and a man carrying a large object. The Red Star series, “Four Seasons,” shows the artist staring straight at the viewer, as she mocks traditional museum dioramas on Native Americans. Gutierrez’s pieces, part of his “Real Doll” collection, shows him dressed up as four different sex dolls, all of whom have distinct names and personas, in a series of poses that range from sexually provocative to haunting.

Dorn and eight other students wrote labels for the exhibition.Elissa Watters ’15, a curatorial intern for the Hood who wrote a label for the Susanna Coffey piece “Intake,” said that the labels were more about the students’ reactions to the pieces they chose than research.

“In terms of contemporary art, there’s not a huge amount of scholarship,” she said. “We were talking about what we saw, responding to it, trying to relate it to our lives and life at Dartmouth to make it more accessible.”

Dorn said that she enjoyed that the labels were not written like traditional museum labels focusing on research because it gave her an opportunity to connect the art more to her experiences and the present day.

Malika Khurana ’15, who wrote the label for Kiki Smith’s “My Blue Lake,” said that her favorite part of the label writing experience was the chance to see the piece in storage in person with Taylor.

Khurana said that she chose to write the “My Blue Lake” label because she enjoyed the technical aspects of the creation of the portrait and because it was different than traditional self-portraits.

Watters, who had not had experience with Coffey’s work before writing the label for “Intake” said she chose the piece because the way it was painted with an ambiguous divide between foreground and background.

“I thought it was really interesting the way the figure fades into and emerges out of the background,” she said.

Khurana said that she also enjoyed how Coffey used the blending of strong geographic shapes in her self-portrait.

Dorn wrote the labels for two pieces, including Jeff Wall’s “Double Self-Portrait” and Rineke Dijkstra’s “Self Portrait.” Dorn said that because she had no previous experience with photography she enjoyed working with photographs instead of paintings.

She said she enjoyed the Dijkstra portrait, which shows the artist standing alone in a locker room in a bathing suit a few months after she was in a bicycle accident. Dijkstra has said that the portrait marked the start of her artistic awakening.

“There’s a lot of emotion — raw emotion — in that photograph,” Dorn said. “It really just spoke to me.”

Dorn said that she also enjoyed the piece “Poet” by studio art professor Enrico Riley because she was able to talk to Riley about the piece.

In addition to the exhibit, Dorn helped curate a show on student self-portraiture called “About Dartmouth Face,” which is on display in the student gallery in the Black Family Visual Arts Center and is meant to help connect the Hood show with student artists at the College.

The exhibit will run until Aug. 30. On Wednesday, the Hood will hold a workshop on the exhibition that includes the creation of participant’s self-portraits. On Feb. 21, Taylor and Dorn will hold a special tour of the exhibit. Three of the artists featured in the exhibit — Gutierrez, Red Star and Reneé Stout — will speak in a panel at the College on May 7.