“CLOSE-UP” brings together nine women artists whose work shares a focus on the representation of the human figure in the form of portraits and self-portraits, and who occupy leading positions in the history of modern art from 1870 nowadays. The exhibition, presented until January 2 at the Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland, is centered on the specific perception of artists, on their personal vision of the world which is expressed in the portraits of themselves and others. By juxtaposing these artists, it becomes possible to understand how the gaze of artists on their subject evolves between the second half of the 19th century and today, and to appreciate what is reflected in this gaze and what makes it significant.
The exhibition considers a period at the beginning of which it became possible for women artists in Europe and America to become professionally active on a large basis. It was also a time when the notion of portrait underwent a profound change, accompanied by a radical questioning of the notion of the individual. Just as Impressionism ushered in a transformation of classical portraiture, the beginning of the 20th century saw artists experience the total abandonment of any notion of resemblance. Subsequently, the portrait evolved into a form of expression in which to explore new conceptions of subjectivity and new possibilities of representation. The artists presented in the exhibition offer an exemplary illustration of this trajectory. Although the exhibition does not intend to provide a history of portraiture since the advent of modernity, each of the artists’ body of work presents a specific form of portraiture that is rooted and derived from their respective era.
The exhibition opens with Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) and Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). Both artists helped shape Impressionism and became important role models for subsequent generations of female painters. The works of Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907) presented in the exhibition were produced between 1900 and 1907, the years of her exceptionally intense and promising early works, which came to an abrupt end with the artist’s death in childbirth in November 1907. Thirty years stand between her and Morisot and Cassatt, and artistically speaking Modersohn-Becker occupies a position different, being among the first who can be considered pioneers of modernism. With Lotte Laserstein (1898-1993), the exhibition moves from Paris to the Berlin of the 1920s. Her portraits depict types of modern everyday life, in particular the “New Woman” whose image has subsequently spread in photography, magazines and film.
The work of Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) probably presents the most complex form of portraiture, and more particularly the self-portrait, in the exhibition. Kahlo’s self-portraits are unmistakably representations of the artist, but they do not attempt to capture the true self. Rather, they are highly constructed self-portraits, but no less authentic to be so. Although belonging to the same generation as Lotte Laserstein and the slightly younger Frida Kahlo, Alice Neel (1900-1984) represents a completely different position both historically and artistically. Unlike many of his American colleagues, Neel did not choose the path of abstraction and remained faithful to figuration. She also did not stray from her models nor did she joke about them. She created lifelike portraits, painted from live models or from memory, aimed at capturing an individual’s character.
A new section of the exhibition begins with Marlene Dumas (* 1953), followed by Cindy Sherman (* 1954) and Elizabeth Peyton (* 1965), as the contemporary portrait takes center stage with three very different positions. All three artists have in common that their perception and experience of reality is shaped and influenced by mass media and the power of their imagery. Each of their approaches to the portrait expresses it in a different way.
With about 100 loans from international museums and private collections in Europe, the United States and Mexico, the exhibition offers unexpected and unique perspectives on the history of portraiture and the careers of artists.
The exhibition is complemented by a series of short films featuring nine renowned international actresses: Irène Jacob, Martina Gedeck, Luna Wedler, Meret Becker, Ángela Molina, Bettina Stucky, Romana Vrede, Maria Furtwängler and Valerie Pachner, inviting spectators to discover the complex and diverse personalities of the artists from another angle. Coming soon on www.fondationbeyeler.ch
The exhibition catalog is published in German and English by Hatje Cantz Verlag, Berlin. With 342 pages, it presents essays on each of the artists of Tere Arcq and Hilda Trujillo, Tamar Garb, Peter Geimer, Donatien Grau, Anna-Carola Krausse, Sylvie Patry, Uwe M. Schneede, Jennifer A. Thompson and Theodora Vischer.