The National Academy was founded in 1825 by a group of artists and architects whose vision was to “promote the fine arts in America through instruction and exhibition.” Their objective is evident with their current exhibition \’self\ Portraits of Artists in their absence. The exhibition is a collection of 145 self portraits depicting different genres and styles true to the artists. When you walk through this exhibition you are transported through different ages of portraits from the the beginning of the 1800s though the early 2000s. Each is connected with one recurring theme what is the artists interpretation of his or her self portrait and how they should be remembered. The exhibition was fascinating because you can experience artists from each era and the styles they are known for. There were however some pieces that stood out in the exhibition.
The first self-portrait that catches my eye in the main exhibit is Boushra Almutawakel’s Mother, Daughter, Doll. This series of 10 c-print photographs depicts the artist posing together with her daughter and doll. It shows the different ways of wearing a hijab, or headcovering worn by many Muslim women. As you look at each portrait, the coverage increases until the last portrait, where there is a black image with everything completely covered. I found it was a strong piece to begin this exhibition. The prints makes you think of the final outcome how much coverage is to much or what society thinks of the hijab in general. It’s a piece that sparks conversation and I was curious to see what other artists did. However, before you dive into the other portraits of the exhibit you cannot help but notice Robin’s costume in the middle of the foyer of this mansion. Yes, you read correctly Robin’s costume – as in Batman and Robin. After looking over the costume, I can’t believe how well it looked since the 1960’s.
The first group of portraits I encounter on the second level of the exhibition are from the 1800s and early 1900s. Nothing against the 1800s, but I could really breeze through this side of the exhibit, even though some of the paintings look eerily real, like their eyes are following as you walk on by. I move on to the next room where amid sculptures, a tin can (remember this is the artists interpretation of what his self-portrait should be) and a digital image. I’m drawn to a self-portrait by Chuck Close. This portrait may look very generic from afar but looking at it closely the print was made with dots and what looks like graphic lines. I thought it was a pretty cool portrait, but what really catches my eye is the sculpture in the middle of the room. The sculpture, Double-Sex Rococo Scholars Stone Scream Mandorla, with decoration by Barry X Ball, is made with Mexican Onyx. It’s a three dimensional sculpture of a head screaming. At first glance, you think the head is melting, but looking at it from the front of the face the sculpture is screaming. This became my favorite piece of the collection. The sculpture can convey different interpretations; it may even remind you of a horror movie. In using the onyx with the different colors blending gave the sculpture a marble look and the way the sculpture was cut made it look almost lifelike. I also like the texture and the way he carved the sculpture. You can see every line and it gives it more definition and detail. As you leave the space and go up the stairs you have the opportunity to leave your mark on this great space.You are allowed to grab a marker and leave a part of you at the National Academy Museum. I thought it was an awesome idea – how many museums do you know that lets you draw or write on their walls? So I grabbed a marker and left my mark, no I can’t tell you what it is, so don’t ask.
On the fourth and last floor of the exhibition are the modern art portraits, here you see a mix of mixed media, digital prints, a short film and sculptures. I enjoyed all the different styles of the modern artists’ interpretations of their self-portraits. Beyond seeing an Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons’ portraits, the two paintings that captured my attention in this room is first Robert De Niro Sr. self-portrait oil on canvas. The colors and the way he painted his face half red and half yellow makes you want to look at it. It’s only then you realize the name behind this portrait that it is the Robert De Niro’s father who painted this portrait. Everett Raymond Kinstler’s Triple Self-Portrait oil on canvas was impressive. I liked the way he showed the different views and perspective as you look at the painting. You’re looking at him, looking upon himself, looking upon himself.
What exactly is a self-portrait? Though at first you may think, “Oh, it’s an artist’s selfie,” really it’s not. A self-portrait can consist of many things; it can be a painting, a picture, a sculpture, a small film or just a small tin can. A self-portrait is what an artist’s feels should represent him or her.
I recommend this exhibition for everybody. There is a style and technique of art for everyone, you like photography and prints they have it, traditional oil on canvas, it’s there, sculpture using materials besides clay, don’t look any further. Don’t just take my word for it, go see it for yourself, the best part is you pay what you feel and leave your mark on an over 100 year old mansion.
The National Gallery Museum will be hosting Self: Portraits of Artists in their absence from January 29th to May 3rd, 2015.