Turner Contemporary presents the exhibition ‘Self’ which posits the question, in a world where ‘selfies’ have become everyday expressions and ‘Britishness’ is being redefined, what is the role of self-portraiture and how has it shifted through the history of art to the present day? The ‘selfie’ has become a frame through which self-portraiture is re-evaluated in the 21st century, sparking conversations on history, celebrity, collecting, gender, mortality and contemporary approaches.
Artists have been recreating their own image for centuries. From self-advertisement and preserving legacy, to figurative studies, political commentary and biographical exploration self-representation, has shaped Western art.
The exhibition reflects on artists’ self-portraits from Sir Anthony van Dyck’s last Self-portrait of 1640-1, recently saved for the nation, to Louise Bourgeois. Over 100 works, most of which are from the National Portrait Gallery London, are brought together for an expansive look at the artists’ self.
Historical and contemporary artists sit side by side, including Sir Anthony van Dyck, Mary Beale, Louise Bourgeois, John Constable, Tracey Emin, Jason Evans, Lucian Freud, Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Angelica Kauffmann, Sarah Lucas, Gillian Wearing, Yinka Shonibare MBE, JMW Turner and Andy Warhol.
The acquisition of Van Dyck’s last self-portrait was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund in honour of David Verey CBE (Chairman of the Art Fund 2004-2014), the Portrait Fund, The Monument Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation, several major individual supporters, and many contributions from the public through the Save Van Dyck appeal, 2014. Turner Contemporary is the first venue on a 3 year UK tour of Van Dyck’s Self-portrait.
One work in the exhibition that has particularly captivated or perhaps terrified, both viewers and media is Jeremy Millar’s Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man (The Willows) (2011). The work is a lifelike cast of the artist’s mangled body, covered in holes and lying prone on the gallery floor. It juxtaposes two references, the horror story The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, and the 1840 photograph by Hippolyte Bayard, entitled Self Portrait as a Drowned Man, in which he faked his suicide for the camera.
“I didn’t quite realise the implications of depicting myself in such a way, and the horror of seeing oneself as if dead – that which one will never see,” the artist told the press. “I have got more used to it now, but the first time was extremely upsetting: I really thought that I must be dead, as there was my corpse, which meant that I wasn’t sure who was the ‘me’ who was looking at it. It was terrifying.”
Self – Turner Contemporary – until 10 May 2015