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New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Exhibition Detail
The Lens and the Mirror: Self-Portraits from the Collection, 1957–2007
1000 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10028-0918

July 21st, 2009 - November 15th, 2009
© Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
upper east side
(212) 535-7710
Sun-Thu 10-5:30; Fri-Sat 10-9
prints, photography, sculpture

Artists’ self-portraits hold an enduring fascination for the viewer. When confronting an artist’s self-image, we not only feed our curiosity about the creator’s appearance, but we also witness the maker in an act of self-encounter and are invited, at least ostensibly, to gain insight into his or her nature. In addition, we may be granted a glimpse into the private realms of the studio, the home, or the psyche. As it has developed in Western art over the last six hundred years, self-portraiture has served a variety of purposes for the artist—to practice and advertise one’s skill, to convey status and self-aggrandize, to indulge in fantasy and narcissistic impulse, or simply to document and impart private information publicly. The expediency of the genre is obvious—the subject is always conveniently at hand. For the artist, the mirror is an indispensable tool for recording his or her own image; the camera has served this purpose in myriad ways since photography’s invention.

Transmitting a reliable likeness is not necessarily the goal of the contemporary artist. Indeed, the genre is pliable, offering the means to invent new narratives about the self or to disguise, conceal, or even falsify it. Each portrayal is carefully crafted to divulge only as much truth as the author chooses.

This installation includes more than fifty paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, and prints from the collection. While not all the artists presented in this exhibition were habitual self-portraitists, some, including Lucas Samaras and Nahum B. Zenil, have compulsively returned to the fertile ground of self-depiction throughout their careers, while others, such as Nikki S. Lee and Cindy Sherman, have made themselves the exclusive subject of their art.

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