Fickle Mirror: Dialogues in Self-Portraiture

On August 2, the Academy Art Museum (AAM) in Easton opens an exciting exhibition, Fickle Mirror: Dialogues in Self-Portraiture. From the first staged photograph to the present day’s unceasing flow of selfies in social media, self-portraiture has expanded the possibilities of artistic production, enhancing the ability of artists to take control of their own representation, reinterpret truthfulness, and experiment with their chosen medium.

When creating a self-portrait, the image-maker must exercise self-introspection, only to imagine and prepare themselves to be the subject of the viewer’s gaze. This exhibition explores the myriad ways in which artists use the theme of self-portraiture to explore and, at times, manipulate their own representation. The selection has a particular focus on dialogues between works across art history, with a consideration of the influence of the invention and advancements of photographic techniques.

AAM Curator Mehves Lelic comments, “Curating this exhibition was an incredible opportunity. Bringing together significant works from art history and showing them alongside major works by some of the most exciting contemporary artists reflects on the ubiquity of self-exploration in art. AAM is honored to share these works with our audience, as we know that the complexity of depicting and representing the self is a theme that will resonate with viewers of all ages.”

The exhibition includes works by Francisco de Goya, Jacob Kainen, Emily Lombardo, and Zanele Muholi from the Museum’s Permanent Collection, as well as major loans of pieces by Njideka Akunyili-Crosby, Amy Sherald, Rembrandt van Rijn, Evan Penny, Andy Warhol, and others from Art Bridges Foundation, Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, and private collections.

On view will be Nancy Floyd’s Weathering Time series. A 2022 Guggenheim Fellow, Nancy has been taking a self-portrait every day for the past 40 years. The project is a reflection on simultaneous joy and grief of living, as well as the representation of women in photography. Nancy will speak at the Museum on Thursday, August 18 at 6 p.m.

Evan Penny’s “Young Self (Portrait of the Artist as He Was (Not), Variation #2) and “Old Self: Portrait of the Artist as He Will (Not) Be, Variation #2” offer a sculptural foray into self-exploration. On loan from the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, the larger-than-life, hyperrealistic works are frank past and future projections of the artist himself, gazing directly into the viewer’s eyes. Evan elaborates not only on a “history of the self” but also the complexity of imagining one’s future: his old self is ironically a future possible self that he perhaps hopes not to become, as expressed by his clever title.

Also on view is a rare early work by acclaimed contemporary artist Amy Sherald. Created in 2003 as part of her MFA thesis project at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the painting “Falling from Grace” offers a unique opportunity to see the emergence of a signature aesthetic that evolves into her mature work. Amy’s work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston; among others, and was recently commissioned to create the official portrait of Michelle Obama.

This will also be the first public showing of AAM’s new acquisition by Zanele Muholi, “Vika II, The Decks, Cape Town.” The work features Zanele biting into a circular wicker decorative object reminiscent of an African lip plate, a form of traditional body modification that has often been exoticized, and its wearers treated as a tourist attraction. Zanele teases the viewer with a form that resembles the plate, inviting the assumption that the subject is a mere object for the pleasure and curiosity of the viewer’s gaze. A closer look reveals that the object is not a plate inside Zanele’s lip but merely a wicker disc the subject is playfully biting. Performing for the camera, she complicates the dynamics of the image: the artist has all the control both as image-maker and subject.

Fickle Mirror also launches AAM’s collaboration with Art Bridges to present a monumental work by Nigerian American artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Titled “I Refuse to Be Invisible,” the work is composed of collaged, photographic transfers depicting the artist with her American husband. Born in Nigeria and relocating to the United States as a teenager, the work addresses the complexities of identity, belonging, and migration through imagery that references her dual backgrounds.

Art Bridges is a nonprofit arts foundation that creates and supports programs that expand access to American art around the country. It partners with art institutions on projects that deeply engage communities via thematic traveling exhibitions, long-term loan sharing collaborations, among additional initiatives. In addition to the loan, AAM is also working with Art Bridges to create exciting free programs for the public, such as a book talk, concert, and a family art day centered on Njideka’s work.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Art Bridges to share this important work with our audiences. I deeply admire the vision of the foundation to disseminate great artworks to rural areas. We share a mission to provide everyone with access to art and a belief in the power of art to transform communities,” says AAM Director Sarah Jesse.

Located at 106 South Street in Easton, AAM is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (free admission), Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost is $3, children under 12 free, and AAM members free. For details, visit academyartmuseum.org.

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