Kathleen Gilje, Self-Portrait as Bouguereau's The Assault, 2012
Courtesy of Francis Naumann Fine Art
One of the most exciting exhibitions of the Winter-Spring 2015 Art Season is Self: Portraits of Artists in Their Absence, at the National Academy Museum, closing this Sunday, May 3rd. Curated by Maurizio Pellegrin, Creative Director; Diana Thompson, Curator of the Collection, and Filippo Fossati, Curator at Large, this show seems to reveal the artists' sense of self-identity far better than a passel of selfie instagrams - proof positive that the exceptionally creative mind defies limits, even in the face of unvarnished "truths." It is those "truths" that make this show so engaging, connecting us to the minds behind the objects.
Above, Kathleen Gilje describes the joys and anxiety of the artist's calling by selecting William Adolphe Bouguereau's The Assault as her metaphor. Surrounded by beguiling cherubs, these irresistible muses beseech, cuddle, counsel, insist, assist, flatter and cajole the artist into submission. This is the artist's agony and ecstasy: inspiration, hard work and the demands of the marketplace all attacking the mind and body at once. It's not a choice, and it can be a chore.
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, The Assault, 1898
Saul Fletcher, Self-Portrait, 1997
Courtesy of Anton Kern Gallery
British artist, Saul Fletcher, projects a darker side to an artist's sense of self. The black mask shields his face while the eyes still operate - looking directly at the viewer. Seeing, rather than being seen, is the preferred relationship. And note: he is indeed cornered and naked, perhaps victimized by Art's onslaught of demands made visible in Gilje's cherubic muses.
Ivan Meštrović, Self-Portrait, c. 1950?
Along with presenting so many well-known and lesser-known artists, surprises abound in the label's information. For example, Ivan Meštrović (1883-1962), a Yugoslav sculptor who was born in today's Croatia, was the first living artist accorded a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in January 1947. He also began teaching at Syracuse University in September of that year. In 1953 he was awarded a gold metal by the American Academy of Art and Letters. In 1954, he became a United States citizen.
Self certainly delivers more that one might expect from its publicity. I lament the lack of images on the National Academy's website and the absence of a catalog for this endeavor. So, please make an effort to visit this wonderful show. Contrary to most exhibitions in the 21st century, there is no virtual alternative to make up for missing the real thing.
Happy May Day!
Beth New York
aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange