Archived Exhibition

Additional Facts about Portrait/Homage/Embodiment
November 3, 2006

The traditional boundaries of portraiture – the likeness of a person - no longer exist: discussions about identity, perception and representation have changed our expectations radically. (The introduction of photography in the mid-nineteenth century also had an impact, quickly dominating this aspect of the art market.) There is no noteworthy contemporary artist who made his or her career as a portraitist in the traditional sense. However, some have taken up the challenge of portraiture, introducing new and broader approaches.

The Pulitzer exhibition Portrait/Homage/Embodiment explores aspects of modern and contemporary representations of individuals. The starting point for this project is two artworks owned by the Pulitzer:

- Richard Serra’s Joe, the first of a series of torqued spirals, commissioned for the courtyard of the building and named by the artist in homage to the late Joseph Pulitzer, Jr.

- Doris Salcedo’s Atrabiliarios, an installation piece involving shoes that represent men, women and children who disappeared in Colombia’s Civil War.

Neither of these artworks is a conventional portrait: instead of reproducing personal features, they convey in different ways the presence of the portrayed. Serra’s sculpture invites a physical exploration and experience, whereas Salcedo’s installation activates the viewer’s imagination about the lives and identities of the victims.

The works selected for the Pulitzer exhibition are presented in three categories: portrait, homage and embodiment.

- Portraiture has traditionally involved the depiction of an individual’s face, and as an art form often emphasized the role of the artist over the status of the subject depicted (the word emerged in 14th-century French and is derived from the verbs “to draw”/”to trace”). The Pulitzer installation uses the term in a more generalized way: references to the subject can be achieved via other means, beyond that of physical likeness.

- Without necessarily being linked to the depiction of facial features, Homages are created through the command and display of personal reverence. The homage can take the form of a text or speech, an object or image etc. and is not defined by the object but by the encouragement and subsequent act of paying homage (if Serra’s Joe was entitled otherwise, no homage would exist). Initially used to designate the display of respect to a feudal lord, the term and its functions were quickly appropriated in literature, music and the Fine Arts.

- Embodiment is generally defined as the representation of a quality or an idea. In that sense portraits can be analyzed according to different layers – e.g. as the embodiment of a social class, of specific moral values, of an epoch. Due to the seminal work by Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961), the term also stands for a concept in philosophy (phenomenology), and has been adopted by other disciplines, such as psychology, sociology and anthropology. For Merleau-Ponty, experience is, in every instance, corporeally constituted, located within and as the body-subject’s incarnation. In that sense, when walking through Serra’s Joe the spectators literally relate their own body to the visual experience.

The Pulitzer installation is by no means a comprehensive presentation of issues related to portraiture in modern and contemporary art. In the context of the Ando-building, it only aims at broadening the viewer’s awareness of the creative potential this subject matter offers to the artist’s and the viewer’s imagination.

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