At a time when countless “selfies” are being posted on social media channels and identity is proving to be more and more fluid, the exhibition presents a sampling of how artists have approached the exploration of representation and self-depiction through portraiture. With each self-portrait, artists either reaffirm or rebel against a sense of identity that links the eye to “I.” Drawing from the National Portrait Gallery’s vast collection, Eye to I will examine how artists in the United States have chosen to portray themselves since the beginning of the last century.
Eye to I features more than 50 works in a variety of styles and media ranging from caricatures to photographs, from colorful watercolors to dramatic paintings and time-based media. The exhibition will trace the process through which select artistic practices have transitioned from gazing into the mirror to looking into the camera; from painted and drawn surfaces to mechanical reproductions such as prints and photographs; from static forms to video. Artworks to be included in the exhibition span the art historical timeline from 1901 to today. Early works will include self-portraits of Edward Steichen, Alexander Calder, and composer George Gershwin, who was also a painter. More recent self-portraits include a video work by Ana Mendieta, and work in a variety of media by Chuck Close, Lois Dodd, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons and Alison Saar, as well as a large-scale painting by Roger Shimomura, Shimomura Crossing the Delaware.
“Individuals featured in Eye to I have approached self-portraiture at various points in history, under unique circumstances, and using different tools, but their representations—especially when seen together—all raise important questions about self-perception and self-reflection,” says Brandon Brame Fortune, chief curator, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. “Some artists reveal intimate details of their inner lives through self-portraiture, while others use the genre to obfuscate their private selves or invent alter egos.”
Featured in Eye to I will be self-portraits by prominent figures in the history of portraiture, including Robert Arneson, Alexander Calder, Jasper Johns, Allan Kaprow, Deborah Kass, Elaine de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Louise Nevelson, Irving Penn, Robert Rauschenberg, Fritz Scholder, Roger Shimomura, Edward Steichen, and many more.