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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Artists emerge from behind the canvas at ICA

With the advent of visual media in the last century many artists have emerged from behind the canvas to become public figures, even icons, in their own right. The new exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art(ICA), "Likeness: Portraits of Artists by Other Artists," explores this phenomenon, creating a role reversal in which the artist is the subject.

Composed by admirers, friends and peers of the artists, the gallery walls hold the countenances of familiar figures like Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, David Hockney and Chuck Close, as well as those of less well known faces. Each work plays off of the collaboration between the two artists and, through medium and content, seeks to deliver its own message about art and self.

Deborah Kass's 1994 collaboration with Cindy Sherman provides what is perhaps the most complex and intriguing portrait of the show. On a large silkscreen ink and acrylic diptych inspired by 1960's pop art, Sherman's face stares back at you under the guise of Liza Minelli. Famous for her self-portraits, in which she arranges herself into different characters, Sherman comments on society's stereotypes and preconceptions. Her portrait, though initially startling, asks the viewer to question the idea of celebrity.

Andy Warhol, the man who called himself a "superstar" and his studio a

"factory," sits in the same room in a piece by Richard Misrach. The portrait, a bullet-hole riddled photograph of Warhol in a Vidal Sassoon ad, interestingly references both Warhol's actual shooting and the irony of his position as a pop-culture icon.

As one might expect, the attempted collaboration of two artists in the production of a single work can be difficult. Three primary options are available to the artists: they can choose to collaborate equally, be truly loyal to the subject's style, or rely on the vision of the artist. The artist has to decide what style, medium, and format will most appropriately reflect his peer and will produce his desired statement.

Portraiture and viewer interest in images of human beings have existed

for millennia, in every imaginable form. From honest and intimate, to deceiving and propagandistic, according to the individual goals of the creator, they are windows into the consciousness of both the painter and the painted. In the ICA, one will find media ranging from photography to watercolor, with executions even more far reaching.

As you might expect, most of the pieces in the show put a twist on the idea of the traditional portrait. For example, Heather Cantrell's photo of well-known feminist Mary Kelly shows her seductively lounging by a pool, showing how even photographs can mask reality.

David Robbins, on the other hand, decides to use a basic approach to his

subjects in "Talent" (1986). Lined along the wall are head shots of various

artists, mimicking those in actors' portfolios. "Contemporary art," he observes, "is kind of intellectual show business." He reminds us that artists can be both intellectual commentators and publicly recognized figures.

Not only does "Likeness" have a great collection of work by noteworthy artists, but it also makes you think about the core ideas behind them, showcasing the many paths artists have taken over time to answer questions about their purpose, their place in society, and the degree to which their work should be associated with their identity.