Portrait of a Woman: Gagosian Paris Opens New ‘Bustes de Femmes’ Exhibition

Urs Fischer
Parade, 2020
© Urs Fischer
Photo: Joshua White
Courtesy Gagosian

 

 

Considering the degree to which is was commissioned by heads of state and royal families, the history of portraiture in art can be a tedious one, with stiff looking kings and stiffer looking kin captured for the however-manyeth time in vivid oil on canvas. The halls of, say, the Prado are simply bursting with them.

Of course, by the 20th Century, we had Picasso, and Francis Bacon, and Lucien Freud, and Jenny Saville, and Cindy Sherman…we could go on. And the art of the portrait has hence become one of exploring the deepest recesses of the subject’s, or artist’s psyche (or both), in order to depict the madness or magnificence (and often everything in between) that lies beyond the individual facade. And Gagosian Paris’ fascinating new exhibition Bustes de Femmes surely counts as essential autumn viewing, as our contemporary ideas of womanhood are in a thrilling state of evolution—especially in the face of continuing threats to their most basic freedoms—and art does have a way of helping to elucidate the socio-cultural zeitgeist.

 

Bustes de Femmes, Installation view, 2020
© Musée Rodin ; © Cecily Brown
Photo: Thomas Lannes
Courtesy Gagosian

 

Sherman and Saville themselves are counted amongst the participating artists, as are Huma Bhabha, Adriana Varejão, and the great Cecily Brown. But somewhat surprisingly, most of the work is by men, and quite a few—Richard Avedon, Alberto Giacometti, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Joan Miro—no longer enjoy a corporeal existence. But it all does make for some fascinating aesthetic juxtapositions: a Rodin bust rests beside Ms. Brown’s haunting Untitled (Vanity) 2005; while Jeff Koons’ curiously somber Gazing Ball (Rembrandt Lucretia) 2015 and Glenn Brown’s enigmatic Christina of Denmark 2008 surround a stark sculpture by Bhabha.

Other standouts include Richard Avedon’s near legendary photograph Brigitte Bardot, hair by Alexandre, Paris, January 1959, and George Baselitz’s evocative In London nicht, der Arm aus Wien, der Kopf aus Berlin (Not in London, the Arm from Vienna, the Head from Berlin), 2011.

 

Bustes de Femmes, Installation view, 2020
© 2020 The Richard Avedon Foundation ; © Urs Fischer
Photo: Thomas Lannes
Courtesy Gagosian

 

Interestingly, the title of the show comes from the gallery’s 2010 booth theme at FIAC (the annual The Paris International Contemporary Art Fair), so it’s rightly being touted as something of a 10th anniversary re-stage, of sorts. But it’s certainly a more ambitious staging this time around, with exalted architect India Mahdavi having been retained to design the scenography—and ending up choosing hues that directly reference her recent (and distinctly feminine) design collection Flower. And surely owing to the continuing pandemic travel restrictions, there is a virtual version of the exhibition as well, with Mahdavi’s environments carrying right over to the digital presentation.

A very smart chap named Oscar Wilde once observed that, “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is rather the painter who reveals himself.”

And so the portraits included in Bustes de Femmes certainly allow for a brief but edifying trip inside the minds of some of the greatest portraitists of the last century or so. But the show also offers a unique glimpse of their ability to interpret the femme identity itself…which is precisely the sort of thing art should be doing in 2020.

 

Bustes de Femmes, Installation view, 2020
© John Currin ; © Roe Ethridge
Photo: Thomas Lannes
Courtesy Gagosian

 

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