Portraiture, a long-held personal status symbol among the elite, has evolved into a daily ritual of self-documentation for many people. What was once only possible through the hands of skilled artists can now be done, albeit to a lesser degree, with a few taps on a phone. Currently on view at the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art, “Ringer: Contemporary Portraiture” includes pieces by 18 different artists who demonstrate how the intentions, fundamental roles and chosen media of portraiture have diversified over time. As portraiture has become more accessible, artists have found exciting new ways to push the art form’s boundaries.
In today’s era of the selfie, the exhibition would be incomplete without a few new and vulnerable takes on self-portraiture. Interested in the divide between the physical body and the photographic self, Tommy Kha’s “Assembly I” is a puzzle that’s only solved from the top of his head to just below his eyes, perhaps suggesting there are parts of him that remain publicly unknowable or are yet to be personally figured out. Known for pop-art paintings of historical figures, Stanley Bermudez’s mixed-media piece “La Maquina de Sueños” instead spins around to his own image and was created during a difficult period of processing feelings about divorce. Inspired by the multiple versions of herself that exist through digital representation, Ally Christmas created “The Extended Self(ie),” a 14-minute video of herself seated solemnly at a table, inviting viewers to slow down and witness portraiture as performance.
Several artists stray away from traditional portraiture by employing unexpected materials. Subverting the notion that a portrait’s purpose is to immortalize its subject, Broderick Flanigan used salt to create an ephemeral, site-specific image of Mariah Parker, well known in the community as Athens-Clarke County District 2 commissioner and hip-hop performer Linqua Franqa. Made from galvanized steel wire, Noah James Saunders’ three-dimensional sculpture “Oui ca va bien” impressively outlines facial features on a man whose reflection dances along walls as the piece gently moves. Investigating the absurdity of gender roles and women’s loss of identity and power through domestic labor, Kim Truesdale’s pair of “Fed Up” portraits place miniature polymer clay foods over the sensory organs of portraits found in a scrapbook of The Future Homemakers of America.
“Ringer” challenges viewers to evaluate the limitations of what can constitute a portrait. Referencing a Roman general who outfoxed enemies by being cautious in battle strategy, “The American Fabius” by Shawn Campbell is a pop-art painting of a tri-cornered military hat without a wearer, perhaps to suggest that the nation currently lacks a leader with restraint. Joshua Bienko’s “Ever So Much More So (Duchamp)” is a photograph of a pair of Christian Louboutin stilettos whose red soles have been painted with Dadaist Marcel Duchamp’s face and his infamous urinal, elevating them as an art object in exchange for their value of practicality. The show even includes a non-visual portrait, with Mary Beth Garrett’s “Back to the Regular,” a sound file of voicemail snippets from the artist’s grandmother that allow the listener to imagine her appearance and personality.
On Sunday, Mar. 10 at 4 p.m., curator John English will moderate a panel discussion with artists Jackie Dorsey, Saunders and Rich Panico. An artist himself who creates sculptures, installations and conceptual works, English has been active with ATHICA for several years. He is also a prolific writer, and was a professor concentrating in magazine journalism and arts criticism at UGA’s Grady College from 1970 until his retirement in 2000.
On Thursday, Mar. 14 at 7 p.m., a closing event will feature a screening of the 1967 documentary Portrait of Jason. Directed, produced and edited by Shirley Clarke, the film’s sole onscreen presence is of Jason Holliday, a gay African-American hustler and aspiring cabaret performer. Incorporating avant-garde and cinéma vérité techniques, the documentary attempts to unravel the troubled but mesmerizing persona of Holliday, revealing truths on the intersections of race, class and sexuality along the way.
“Ringer: Contemporary Portraiture” also includes engaging portraits by Matthew J. Brown, Jaquelynn Faass, Laurel Fulton, Greg Harris, Ray Lee, Justin Schmitz and Katherine Schuber. Gallery hours during the exhibition are held Wednesdays through Fridays and Sundays from 4–6 p.m., plus Saturdays from 1–6 p.m.
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