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Pat Steir: Self-Portrait, Reprise 1987-2009

Pat Steir’s installation, Self-Portrait: Reprise 1987-2009, is the latest incarnation of a project first realized at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 1987 and subsequently presented, in successively modified form, between 1987 and 1991, at the Galleria Alessandra Bonomo, Rome; Grazer Kunstverein/ Stadtmuseum Graz, Austria; Centre International d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, and the Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Canada; the Orchard Gallery, Derry, Ireland;  and the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, France.  It will also appear, next Spring, once again with significant departures in format and content, at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, as part of a retrospective of her drawings.

The New York Studio School version was drawn by students at the school, by artist volunteers, by the artist’s assistants, and by members of the late Sol LeWitt’s installation team, and was project managed by the artistic director of the LeWitt Estate, Anthony Sansotta.  The wall – stained in blue ink and gridded in gold chalk – forms the support for drawings, again in chalk, traced from projections of various art historical source materials.  In the first gallery, these are schematic figures and notations from Albrecht Dürer’s Menschelijcke Proportion, 1528, in white chalk.  In the second gallery, eyes, ears, noses and lips are grouped together by feature, and drawn in red and black chalk.  The eyes are from a 1608 treatise by Odoardo Fialetti; the ears are from Crispyn van De Passe (drawn after Guercino), 1643, and Fialetti; the profile of the mouth from drawings by Agostino Carracci of the late 1500’s-early 1600’s, while noses and further mouths are from Alexander Cozens’s Principles of Beauty Relative to the Human Head, 1778.

By presenting a multitude of facial features and bodies of both sexes, in different stages of development, Steir’s Self-Portrait clearly eschews any conventional kind of self-regard, having instead to do with Buddhist notions of non-self.  The artist, responding to questions about this work in Doris von Drathen’s monograph on the installations, describes how it is “as if the walls of the room were the inside of the skin of a person, the space inside your head and body, rather than an inventory of surface appearances observed from the outside.”   By having a team of other artists and students do the actual drawing, alongside herself, the artist’s touch is deliberately depersonalized.  As Nancy Princenthal wrote in 1987, in response to the first enactment of the piece at the New Museum, “Self-Portrait takes a taxonomic approach to the analysis and representation of the self—by not representing it directly at all.”  However, one element of the Studio School Self-Portrait, seen on a return wall in the second gallery, is a dramatic drip motif, familiar from the artist’s waterfall-evocative abstract paintings.  This is Steir’s personal mark on an otherwise suprapersonal installation.

David Cohen

Gallery Director


Poetry Reading, Sunday, December 13 at 4pm:  Anne Waldman and John Yau read for Pat Steir

Ann Waldman and John Yau

Review of the exhibition from ArtCritical magazine


Installation Views

Snapshots From NYSS

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