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Kunsthalle Wien Examines the Portrait from Mapplethorpe to Goldin
Nan Goldin, Shiobhan in my Mirror, Berlin, 1992, DZ BANK Kunstsammlung © Nan Goldin, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.

VIENNA.- When the history of photography began to unfold with portraiture, one’s own image was cause for astonishment and rapture. Since its discovery, beginning with early daguerreotypes and nineteenth century studio portraits, photography has satisfied people’s desire for their likeness and largely replaced the more costly and demanding painting. The image of the face, as the constitutive element of the portrait, is traditionally regarded as a mirror of the soul and a medium of identification. “The face is where we are,” says photographer Jonathan Miller: “We kiss, eat, breathe and speak through it. It’s where we think of ourselves as being finally and conclusively on show. It’s the part we hide when we are ashamed and the bit we think we lose when we are in disgrace.”

Considering the new technologies available today, which have made it possible to manipulate any image quickly, easily, and inexpensively and to change and improve the appearance of the human body as desired, the role of the portrait as representative of a person and as a means of establishing an identity has to be aesthetically questioned and recontextualized. Starting with Robert Mapplethorpe’s formalist studio photography, Peter Hujar’s intimate psychological pictures, and Nan Goldin’s visual diary, the internationally geared exhibition explores the innovations in portrait photography since 1980.

Motivated by the search for beauty and a personal visual language, social sympathy and affection, artists have since then developed an unconventional art of portraiture encompassing glamour and mise en scène as well as radical realism, snapshot, and documentary objectivity. Aware of the presence of fictitious realities in the visual media, contemporary portrait photography takes a skeptical view of its own tradition, while the work of great twentieth century photographers from August Sander and Diane Arbus to Bernd and Hilla Becher continues to exercise its influence. Breaking away from classical modes of representation and often commenting on them with irony, photographers have explored radically new solutions for the depiction of man since 1980. Capturing a vis à vis, they visualize their own phantasmata.

The most diverse pictorial idioms are removed from their traditional functional contexts and transferred into the sphere of art. Experiments with photographing methods and aesthetics from criminalistics, the press, medicine, or fashion, as well as forms such as the passport photograph or the holiday picture extend and deconstruct the portrait’s conventional concept. All pictures immanently reflect their media surroundings and the technical possibilities and limits of representation or ways of speculative reinvention via visual media interventions. Portraiture today means going through manifold forms of representation after the loss of photography’s innocence.

Contemporary photography, which is no longer subject to censorship and sometimes proves to be a mode of ruthless self-reflection, centers on the individual and questions the relationship between society and subject. Whether lovers, friends, or family (Sally Mann and Tina Barney), Hollywood stars (Greg Gorman) or rock musicians (Anton Corbijn), young people (Rineke Dijkstra), or villagers (Roger Ballen) – the portrayed and their social backgrounds are as diverse as the artistic approaches by means of which the personalities are captured in an unorthodox manner.

What the exhibition also puts on the agenda is the issue of a photography that is rooted in an analog tradition and uses the possibilities of digital image processing and correction. Valérie Belin, whose models’ quality of expression resembles that of mannequins, exemplifies a breach with the past or a transition to digitally generated or defamiliarized portraits. Anthony Gayton reproduces the aesthetics of nineteenth-century photography and turns portraits into fictions. The work groups shown in the exhibition illustrate the range of photographic strategies and condense to form a panorama of today’s image of man.

List of artists represented in the exhibition: Roger Ballen, Tina Barney, Valérie Belin, Dirk Braeckman, Clegg & Guttmann, Andrea Cometta, Anton Corbijn, Rineke Dijkstra, Amy Elkins, JH Engström, Bernhard Fuchs, Alberto García-Alix, Luigi Gariglio, Anthony Gayton, Nan Goldin, Greg Gorman, Katy Grannan, Jitka Hanzlová, Peter Hujar, Jean Baptiste Huynh, Leo Kandl, Barbara Klemm, Gerhard Klocker, Andreas Mader, Sally Mann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Hellen van Meene, Judith Joy Ross, Thomas Ruff, Stefano Scheda, Beat Streuli, Wolfgang Tillmans.

Kunsthalle Wien | Jonathan Miller | Photography | Contemporary Photography | Valérie Belin | Roger Ballen | Tina Barney |

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