Zimmerli debuts ‘Striking Resemblance’ exhibit on portraiture

<p>This portrait in the Zimmerli collection on portraiture by Gary Schneider, titled “Sur,” was donated by John Erdman.</p>

This portrait in the Zimmerli collection on portraiture by Gary Schneider, titled “Sur,” was donated by John Erdman.

After two years of collaborating with students, faculty and various sponsors, the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum on the College Avenue campus is due to open its new “Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture” exhibit on Jan. 25.

The exhibition displays approximately 130 works from 80 artists, including oil paintings, daguerreotypes, digital photographs and free-standing installations, said Donna Gustafson, the Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs.

“We wanted to bring a fresh look to portraiture,” she said.

The initial idea to open an exhibit that focuses solely on portraiture began when Donna Gustafson and Susan Sidlauskas in the Department of Art History taught a seminar of 13 graduate students, said Suzanne Delehanty, director of the Zimmerli Art Museum.

“The students formed themselves into three or four groups on three or four topics and gave papers,” Delehanty said. “In May of 2012, there was a day-long colloquium. The graduate students all presented papers, and we had four different faculty members from all different disciplines come and be their respondents.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to furthering the arts, made the exhibit possible when it awarded the Zimmerli Art Museum a grant for over a period of five years, she said.

“[The grant] embraces two large multi-part projects,” she said. “The portrait project is the first.”

Delehanty said the exhibition, located in the Voorhees Galleries, is divided into three sections: individual portraits, double portraits and group portraits.

The show includes pieces from the museum itself as well as borrowed pieces from museums around the world, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Albright Knox Gallery and the Tate Gallery, she said.

Gustafson said despite the dominant presence of portraiture in art for hundreds of years, the definition of a portrait has become increasingly more ambiguous with social media to the point where a portrait is not simply a face in a frame anymore.

“We had to ask ourselves, ‘what, in fact, is a portrait?’” she said.

The purpose of a portrait is to categorize and represent identities. It separates one human from another. By that definition, the purpose of a portrait can be defined with not only an oil painting or a photograph, but also by a fingerprint, she said.

One example of an individual portrait is Do Ho Suh’s “Uni-form/s: Self Portrait/s: All My 39 Years” (2006), said Sidlauskas, a professor in the Department of Art History.

Suh, a Korean sculptor and installation artist, arranged all of his school and military service outfits on a metal rack, starting with a white collared shirt and blue jacket made for a small child at the front and ending with an olive green army garb at the back, Sidlauskas said.

“What’s the difference between how you want to be seen and how you see yourself? I think that’s one thing that people are trying to experiment with,” she said.

Another aspect of the exhibit is the double portrait, a setup that can portray a mother and child, siblings, friends, romantic couples, the same person multiplied and even an individual and an object, she said.

Gustafson, curator of the show, said it features one portrait in particular of a young girl and her doll. The girl is approximately six years old and holds the hands of the doll while both are wearing almost identical white dresses.

 “At first, it’s hard to tell that the doll is actually a doll, [which] complicates the simplicity of a double portrait,” she said.

Sidlaukas said the double portrait could have a peculiar dynamic. The group portrait is her specialty, and it is the third and final portion of the exhibit.

“When people think ‘group portrait,’ they’re thinking institution ... but in fact, anything that is set up as a group is always going to have to have some very strange, destabilizing passages in it,” she said.

“Castricum aan Zee, The Netherlands, June 1992,” a chromogenic print by Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra, illustrates the ebb and flow of various dynamics that can be present in group portraits, Sidlaukas said.

“[Group portraits are] a way to sharpen our eye in general about how we look, how we look at individuals, how we look at groups [and] how we consider ourselves individuals and parts of groups,” she said.

Throughout the entire exhibit, portraiture is modeled through various mediums, she said, but photography is one of the main themes.

“With the advent of digital photography, and all kinds of ways to manipulate imagery, I think portraiture has become even more open-ended … I think that contemporary artists especially have felt freer to play with portraiture and think of it not as time-bound and tradition-bound,” Gustafson said.

In order to give students a fun and hands-on opportunity to truly experience portraiture within the exhibit, the show includes a photo booth where visitors can take their own portraits and take them home, Delehanty said.

“I can’t wait to see how people respond to it, and I’m curious to see what photos are going to be taken in our photo booth,” she said.

Following the exhibit, a symposium plans to be held on the first weekend of March that should feature Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize laureate, she said. The symposium is the second part of the grant awarded to the museum by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The entire exhibit is accompanied by a book titled, “Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture,” written by Gustafson and Sidlauskas, Delehanty said. Prestel Publishing, a subsidiary of Random House known for publishing books about art, released the book Jan. 1.

The exhibit plans to be open to the public starting on Jan. 25. Admission is free for students, faculty and staff from all three campuses, as well as for museum members and children under the age of 18. Admission is $6 for adults and $5 for seniors 65 and older.

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