Warhol and the Shared Subject

Fort Worth Contemporary Arts

Closed February 1
by Alison Hearst

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      Douglas Gordon
      Self Portrait of You and Me (Warhols), 2007
      Smoke and mirror
      37 ¼ x 37 ½ inches
      (Tony Scherman, Lincoln as Himself, 2008 reflected in mirror)
      Photo David Wharton

      View Gallery

      It’s true; we’ve seen a lot of Warhol lately. Trying to count the recent Warhol-centric exhibitions is a bit like counting sheep. The Andy Warhol Foundation’s recent unloading of Warhol’s Polaroids to various universities kicked off a plethora of show-and-tell exhibitions. Most of these shows simply slapped these polaroids of well-known luminaries on the walls, attracting the ever-curious masses by playing into our cultural obsession with Warhol and his celebrity entourage. A reprieve to this cult-of-the-celebrity mania, Warhol and the Shared Subject at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, curated by Gavin Morrison, takes a fresh, expansive approach to Warhol’s portraits. Presented here are several of Warhol’s Polaroids—mostly of unfamiliar patrons that were recently gifted to TCU—installed democratically to intermingle with portraits in a variety of mediums by contemporary artists Rineke Dijkstra, Douglas Gordon, CS Leigh and Tony Scherman. Here, the days assuming that a portrait can accurately represent a person’s true character are long gone. The works in the show bring into focus the various external influences at play in portraiture, such as the artist, the viewer and popular culture. Although diverse, the contemporary portraits build on Warhol’s approach to portraying his sitters—an approach steeped in ambiguity and artifice. By doing so, the works lay bare the contrivance inherent in portraiture—and our self-presentation more broadly—exposing the cracks in the time-honored genre’s ability to capture an authentic persona.

      Stylized and iconic, we can practically recognize Warhol’s portraits with our eyes closed. More often than not, we also associate Warhol’s oeuvre with his superstar cohorts. The same goes for Warhol’s Polaroids, in which the sitters’ glamourized poses and cosmetics make them look like something they are not: celebrities. Untitled (Shaindy Fenton) (1980)—two Polaroids of the Fort Worth art dealer donning a Cleopatraesque wig—demonstrates this masquerade. In these photographs, Warhol captures Fenton as Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra. Clearly posing, Fenton emerges as slightly more than a charlatan, but, perhaps, the same could also be said for the photographs of the famed. We really know little more than the façade.

      Rightfully installed next to Warhol’s Untitled (Shaindy Fenton) are two Polaroid self-portraits of the artist Douglas Gordon in drag, Staying Home and Going Out (2005). Directly quoting Warhol’s Self-Portrait (in Drag) series, Gordon adopts Warhol’s charades to mask his true identity; Gordon is himself, Warhol, man and woman, all conflated in one snapshot. Like Untitled (Shaindy Fenton), Gordon’s identity fluctuates based on our recognition of his references.

      Hands down the most abstract portrait in the traditional sense, but perhaps the most illustrative of the exhibition’s overriding theme, is CS Leigh’s installation EXHIBITS A – K FROM THE DEBRAY FILES (2008). The piece offers tiny puzzle pieces regarding Andreas Baader’s hiding out in Regis Debray’s Parisian apartment while he awaited sentencing for a crime. An undeveloped historical footnote, as the artist describes it, Baader’s portrait leaves much room for abstraction—even his physical features are unknown. Like many of the other portraits, EXHIBITS A – K is wide open to the projections of the artist and viewer.

      While portraiture carries a stick-in-the-mud stigma, the well-rounded works in Warhol and the Shared Subject enliven and challenge the genre by subverting conventional roles: the viewer as spectator, the artist as sole creator and the sitter as subject. The contemporary works successfully extend the artifice in Warhol’s portraits to suggest that self-representation is inauthentic and unstable, and also, in a constant state of revision.

      Alison Hearst received her M.A. in Art History from Texas Christian University and is a freelance writer living in Fort Worth.

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