Artists have always turned inward, casting themselves as subjects of their inquiries. But the works comprising Art and Culture Center’s fascinating “Artists and Identity: Portraiture, Performance, Doppelgangers and Disguise” transcend basic ideas of the self-portrait, expanding the definition—sometimes radically—of what such an approach entails.
So it’s appropriate that “Artists and Identity” opens with an image of photography chameleon Cindy Sherman, the godmother of subject/creator interface, appearing as a pouty-lipped Madonna, and looking every bit like a silent film star ready for her close-up. Yet only in an exhibition as forward-thinking as this one does Sherman’s work feel almost traditional. She is posited here as the O.G. trailblazer who inspired the next generations to take concepts of self-portraiture even further.
Thus, we have collagist and performance artist Helina Metaferia. In her provocative video piece “The Mother,” shown here, she slumps on the sprawling floor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., underneath Robert Motherwell’s abstract painting “Elegy For Reconciliation,” imitating its forms with her body. Captured in multiple angles from mounted museum cameras, the work is injected with a kind of acrid comedy. To the average museumgoer, it simply appears as though a person has collapsed on the floor, an action that provokes little in passersby, suggesting a critique of bystander apathy tinged with racism, even in a city as progressive as the nation’s capital.
Metaferia’s piece is one of four videos in “Artists and Identity,” and together they paint a broad picture of self-portraiture’s elasticity as a mode of insight. Terence Price II’s “In 2017, and 18, and 19, and 20, and So On,” the artist measures—and collapses—time through his haircuts, as he documents a trim each year and runs them on four screens simultaneously. Snatches of dialogue and jazz evoke the communality of the barbershop, while Price’s 2020 haircut, self-administered at home and in isolation because of COVID, is an indelible quarantine document.
In Martine Gutierrez’s “Red Woman91,” the artist adopts the persona of a fashion model in the midst of a shoot. Contorting her body in awkward formations, often uncertain of where to place her arms, Gutierrez explores everything we’re not supposed to see behind glamour photography: namely the human being writhing beneath the gloss and the airbrush. But the most visceral work in this exhibition goes to Antonia Wright and “Suddenly We Jumped,” a 14-second video documenting the artist being thrust into a sheet of glass. The result is expectedly dangerous and unexpectedly beautiful. The piece accompanies “MAP,” her photograms of glass panes the artist shattered with a hammer—Wright’s furious and reasonable response to the police killings of unarmed Black people in 2020.
The exhibition’s stretchiest definition of the self-portrait is likely Lucas Samaras’ “Head #136.” Using a technique that manipulates the mylar in Polaroid images, his contorted visage appears as owlish eyes emerging out of a Rorschachian blot. But not to be outdone in the radical self-interpretation department, Loie Hollowell’s “Postpartum Belly Void” offers a painted suggestion of post-pregnancy anatomy in extreme close-up, and it looks every bit as alien as some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s reproductive flowers.
I couldn’t help but notice the near-complete lack of, to put it bluntly, straight white men in “Artists and Identity,” which makes it a refreshing correction from the old standard, and without any self-congratulation: This isn’t a show about diversity or inclusivity; it just seems to have come together that way.
In this respect, my favorite suite of works may be Lex Barberio’s “Ambisextrous,” in which lenticular portraits transform from “masculine” to “feminine” depending on the angle you view them. Barberio magnificently deploys a trendy gimmick in contemporary art to create the perfect expression of gender fluidity—a moving representation of the spectrum in which we all reside, and an acknowledgement that the best portraits are often the slipperiest.
“Artists and Identity” runs through Aug. 15 at Art and Culture Center, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood. Admission costs $7 adults and $4 seniors and students. Call 954/921-3274 or visit artandculturecenter.org.