Organized in collaboration with nine Dartmouth students, the Hood Museum of Art’s “About Face: Self-Portraiture in Contemporary Art,” opening this weekend, explores the extraordinary range and global diversity of self-portraiture in contemporary art.
Building on the success of recent student-driven Hood exhibitions such as “The Expanding Grid” and “Word and Image,” this project offered undergraduates an opportunity to learn more about museums and curatorial practice by participating in the planning and execution of a major exhibition project.
The students studied original works of art in the museum’s Bernstein Study-Storage Center, honing their observational skills and informing their selections for the exhibition, which includes paintings, photography, prints, and video by 18 noted contemporary artists—Chuck Close, Susanna Coffey, Félix de la Concha, Rineke Dijkstra, Marit Fөlstad, Martín Gutierrez, Nikki S. Lee, Sarah McEneaney, Bruce Nauman, Wendy Red Star, Enrico Riley, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Renée Stout, Christian Thompson, Jeff Wall, Ai Weiwei, and Francesca Woodman—all known for their probing investigations of the genre.
“About Face” is on view from Jan. 31 through Aug. 30. On May 7, three of the artists in the exhibition will come to campus to participate in a panel discussion on the theme of “Self-Portraiture and the Construction of Identity.” Martín Gutierrez, Wendy Red Star, and Renée Stout have all engaged in work that interrogates the construction of contemporary identity and the nature of representation.
“ ‘About Face’ engaged its student curators in great depth,” says Michael Taylor, director of the Hood. “Once the exhibition checklist was finalized, each student chose an artist’s self-portrait to research and write an object label for. In doing so, they learned more about the myriad ways in which contemporary artists have engaged with self-portraiture while also bringing their own perspectives as Dartmouth students. This unique vantage point allowed these students to produce a fresh take upon each artist’s approach to self-representation, and I believe that the labels that they wrote for the exhibition are truly remarkable.”
“The label-writing process was a unique experience,” says Laura Dorn ’15. “It gave me the opportunity to view pieces in the ‘About Face’ exhibition in storage and engage with the content, scale, and materiality of the works. In an age where ‘selfies’ are everywhere, it was an illuminating process to respond to the way contemporary artists are approaching themselves as a subject.”
The experience of seeing original works of art in the Bernstein Study-Storage Center also made a deep impression on Malika Khurana ’15, who wrote her label on Kiki Smith’s My Blue Lake. “When you see artwork in person, and it’s there in the storage of the Hood for your eyes only, you can find so much more than you would in a crowded museum. All pretensions are off, and you can connect with the art on such an intimate level, taking the time to imagine the artist’s process and what they were trying to do as they worked on this piece in their studio. It was amazing to me to realize how many fantastic pieces (by artists as well-known as Kiki Smith!) are in the Hood’s collection.”
“Writing a label for the exhibition was initially intimidating and a great challenge,” says Singer Horse Capture ’17, “especially after looking at Christian Thompson’s photograph in person and beginning to realize how beautiful and brilliant it is. However, after taking the time to think about the essence of what the work meant to me and how others could access it, creating a label I am proud of was a surprisingly exciting and rewarding experience.”