Guy Pène du Bois, “Girl in Yellow Evening Dress,” circa 1942

You’re invited to explore the genre of portraiture from a new perspective that considers the modern portrait’s social, political, and economic contexts. Featuring work from the 19th century to the present day, there’s certainly a lot here to enjoy.

511 Gallery in New York City will open “The Portrait: An Open Reading” on October 26. The exhibition is offering audiences a fresh perspective on the genre and how it has changed dramatically over the centuries. In particular, “An Open Reading” also draws attention to “how the means by which a portrait today is expressive is much more than the literal representation of a person’s external appearance,” the gallery says.

Among the highlights of the show are a remarkable 1873 engraving by John Singer Sargent’s teacher Carolus-Duran as well as paintings by 20th-century artists such as Guy Pène du Bois and Edna Reindel. Also included is a drawing by Norman Rockwell and photographs by Jacques Henri Lartigue, Philippe Halsman, and Andres Serrano. Contemporary portraiture is represented by such artists as Nina Katchadourian, Ed Fraga, Lucy Levene, Rebecca Soderholm, Alex Schuchard, and Elizabeth Livingston.

Continuing, 511 writes, “The earliest portraits, classical Greek and Roman, were created to commemorate wealthy and powerful people, either during their reigns or upon their deaths. In Medieval and Renaissance periods, religious persons became the mainstays of the genre. In the 1700s, as a result of industrialization and an emergent middle-class (burghers in the Netherlands, the bourgeoisie in France), commissioned portraits were made by skilled and well-known artists of the families and colleagues of patrons who stemmed from a wide variety of backgrounds and social status.

“None of those reasons for making portraits in the past have ceased, but new motivations and purposes have been added, resulting in a genre capable of creating rich and diverse meanings. Portraiture today is host to a multitude of significations beyond the representation of a person’s external — or even external + internal — likeness. There are, in this show, the formal photographs of Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra by Philippe Halsman that signify the idea of celebrity and its partner, money; but then also one by Andres Serrano that signifies the traditionally morally-accepted ‘type’ of marriage — a portrait in which the coupledom overtakes the individual particularities of the two sitters. ‘War Thoughts’ by the mid-twentieth-century painter Guy Pène du Bois, is a double-portrait that represents death and its idea as much as it does two individuals; while Nina Katchadourian’s photograph ‘Artificial Insemination’ is a ‘stand-in’ for life and human procreation, with no human face or figure in evidence. The collected artworks engage each other and viewers in a curatorial conversation about the varied and changing approaches to portraiture, which then enables the contemplation of the historic periods, economic and political landscapes, artistic pedagogies, and personal relationships at play in each image.”

“The Portrait: An Open Reading” will continue through January 5, 2018. To learn more, visit 511 Gallery.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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