Look Again! Portraiture and the Body
April 4, 2015 (ongoing)
Look Again! Portraiture and the Body
In this section of Look Again!, the artists show how they have approached representation of the self and others. The rapid production and circulation of the ubiquitous ‘selfie’ and Facebook photo have transformed processes of portraiture. For the artists in this gallery, however, to depict the self or others were processes of considered reflection, not quick snapshots.
The artists have drawn on histories of portrait painting and portrait photography, and have created unique artworks in such media as paint, large-scale photography, drawing, printmaking and stone among other materials. These artworks include commemorative and commissioned portraits of society and community members, families, youth, children, self-portraits, and also objects which invoke the body through metaphor.
Many important questions about bodily representation are raised in this gallery. For example, who is the subject? What does that subject tell us about both the artist and the person being depicted? In the self-portrait, artist and subject are one and they are their own ‘commissioner,’ sharing elements of their life as an artist with audiences. In Chris Cran’s Two Portraits of the Artist by Andy Warhol, the artist involves both self and another as he imagines the famous Pop Art star painting him to be a celebrity. The works of Barrie Jones show how portraits can express changing notions of beauty across time and cultures. In sharp contrast, the works by Inuit sculptors do not specify or name their subjects because, for the Inuit people, there is no parallel celebration of the individual subject.
Today, genetic engineering, prosthetics, self-determined surgery and the daily act of sex-gender performance have further confounded the boundaries between science, technology and the biological body. Identity categories such as man, woman, gay and straight have also shaped how the body has been socially constructed. Indeed, portrait and body representations in the visual arts are not shared monolithically across cultures, time or between subjects and artists. However, these viewpoints show prevailing norms at work and inform how the body is, and is not, represented.
Exhibition Design in the Modern Era:
The Canadian Group of Painters in Atlantic City, USA (1933)
In 1933, the inaugural exhibition of the Canadian Group of Painters toured to the Heinz Art Salon in Atlantic City, New Jersey following its presentation at the Art Gallery of Toronto. The exhibition contained works by all of the organization’s founding members, comprised of the core members of the Group of Seven and its contemporaries. In this exhibition, drawn from the AGW’s collection of modern art, we present the two end walls to show this display method.
In Atlantic City, a carved wall moulding was set at approximately three feet (nearly one meter) from the floor. On a neutral wall colour, the first tier of paintings was hung frame-to-frame using the wall molding as a continuous baseline, extending corner-to-corner. Above these one more tier of paintings was usually installed, and sometimes three paintings would be stacked above one another. In this tight presentation style, a gallery guide was used to identify artworks rather than individual wall labels. Much like the salon, this strategy prioritized viewing many artworks rather than using wall space for labels to identify who made what. By today’s standards of exhibition design, this style was still a compact method of presentation. Nonetheless, compared to its 19th-century predecessor, it represented a significant paring down of the total number of objects shown.
This display method shows how exhibition design was changing in the 20th century. Exhibition societies and public galleries began to work towards a more sleek, modernist aesthetic, one that transitioned from the jam-packed, skied works of the 19th-century salon to today’s minimalist white cube, all presented at adult height eye-level.
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