On August 14, 21c Museum presents the exhibition “Creating Identity: Portraits Today,” which explores how portraiture—one of the oldest forms of representation—is being conceptualized by the current generation of artists.
“Creating Identity” features works by both emerging and established artists, including Yinka Shonibare, Chuck Close, David Hockney, Kehinde Wiley, Mickalene Thomas, Miguel Ángel Rojas, CutUp, Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, Germán Gómez, Ben Durham, and Chris Radtke. More than 60 works—including painting, photography, sculpture, and video—are featured in the exhibition, which will be on view through December 31.
“Creating Identity: Portraits Today” features works that re-examine cultural conceptions of portraiture, such as Shonibare’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (Europe), which introduces African motifs into Goya’s well-known work, and Wiley’s The Prophet and the King II, which depicts a contemporary African-American subject with the traditional trappings and pose of an historic portrait. Photographic portraits by Mickalene Thomas play on themes of both 1970s blaxploitation and empowerment, while a series of images by McCallum & Tarry features mug shots of civil rights workers arrested during the Montgomery bus boycotts repurposed into stylized oil paintings.
Self-portraits are represented through a number of pieces, including mixed media works by the Spanish artist Germán Gómez, whose “Drawn” series depicts his semi-nude figures in collaged and altered images. 21c Museum Hotel’s video lounge will feature Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung’s In G.O.D. We Trust, a politically charged animation which satirically represents Barack Obama as the deity of several world religions. Works from Chuck Close and David Hockney, two of the seminal portraitists of the 20th century, will also be on view.
Other artists in “Creating Identity” use atypical materials to create portraits, including Louisville-based artist Chris Radtke, whose Reach combines shattered glass and lightening seared oak in an abstract sculpture, the British artist consortium CutUp, who painstakingly cut a bus shelter advertising poster into small squares and reassembled the pieces to produce an image of the face of a boy, and Lexington-based artist Ben Durham, whose photorealistic graphite-on-paper works are composed entirely of tiny hand-written text. In The Electronic Village, Karine Giboulo’s colorful, miniature sculpted scenes depict the destructive cycle of manufacturing and electronics waste and explore the environmental consequences of globalization and insatiable consumerism with a seemingly cheerful naiveté.
Childhood, youth, and the transition to adulthood are also explored through the lens of portraiture. Loretta Lux’s digitally manipulated photographs create eerie images of children that evoke both menace and innocence. Colombian artist Miguel Ángel Rojas’s David series shows a young man who was injured in a landmine explosion posed in the stance of a classical statue, contrasting notions of beauty and idealized youth with the physical realities of contemporary combat. Other works focus on the psychological elements of portraiture, such as Bill Vuksanovich’s Ajay, which directly confronts the viewer with its strikingly photorealistic style.