The Artbarn
September 2 – October 13, 2023
The ARNDT Collection is delighted to announce its latest presentation “Visage: Perspectives on Contemporary Portraiture”, showcasing a curation of works from the ARNDT Collection that explores a spectrum of interpretations and visualisations of the human face and portraiture. This exhibition aims to investigate what such anatomical interpretations can tell us about how we see people and our shared, observable human reality.

Curated by Rachael Vance, the exhibition includes the work of Adegboyega Adesina, Del Kathryn Barton, Joseph Beuys, Kwesi Botchway, Jonas Burgert, Patrick Eugene, Johnson Eziefula, Gilbert & George, Thomas Hirschhorn, Rugiyatou Ylva Jallow, Aneta Kajzer, Douglas Kolk, Tahnee Lonsdale, Lizzy Lunday, Oscar Murillo, David Noonan, Eko Nugroho, Zandile Tshabalala, Victor Ubah, Ambera Wellmann, Kaylene Whiskey, Justin Williams, and Paul Yore.

Based on the theme of the human form, the paintings within this show are united by depictions and aspects of people; exploring notions of visage, countenance and likeness. These works, by virtue of their subject matter, pose important questions relating to the visions we hold of ourselves and others. In this way, the artists conjure empathy by capturing an idea of a person.

Drawing upon the rich history associated with portrait painting in art, portraiture continues to embody fundamental truths about identity and contemporary culture, whoever the subject. It can be seen that portraiture in art has enjoyed a revival in recent years, perhaps in direct opposition to the rise of a visual culture smothered by the advent of the “selfie” and distorted projected digital realities. Reinforcing the relevance of contemporary portraiture, “Visage: Perspectives on Contemporary Portraiture” presents a dynamic constellation of representational figurative pieces from the ARNDT Collection that speak to a diverse audience and aim to show us who we are now; thus investigating the essence of the human condition (conditio humana).

Nigerian artist Johnson Eziefula’s two standout pieces “A Covalent One” (2022) and “A Covalent One II” (2022) illustrate a couple clutching in a strong embrace while one of the subjects in each case holds a strong, confrontational gaze with the viewer. Eziefula aims to portray the human experience via his memorable glossy, black porcelain-like skin tones depicted in charcoal and acrylic that hold an emotional weight. These mesmerising, hyper-realistic paintings capture deep psychological dimensions of the painted subject engaging in the loaded strategy of the gaze employed by artists. The gaze has been discussed extensively throughout art history and is also clearly engaged with in Jonas Burgert’s arresting work “Schwindviech” (2023).

Topics concerning contemporary identity and the redefinition of the Black experience are also portrayed within the work of half-Swedish and half-Gambian artist Rugiyatou Ylva Jallow, and South-African artist Zandile Tshabalala; specifically regarding female empowerment. Furthermore, Nigerian artists Adegboyega Adesina, Victor Ubah and Ghana-based artist Kwesi Botchway present intimate portraits that display alternative ideas of beauty beyond the stereotypical depiction of the Black subject with their distinctive and intimate profiles.

Australian artist David Noonan’s piece “Untitled” (2011) depicts a collaged harlequin-like face screen printed on linen and jute collage. Appearing to hover in positive and negative space, the work has a nostalgic black and white celluloid quality. This piece exemplifies the artist’s interest in opacity and masks, referencing face painting as a representation of transformation while echoing a theatrical atmosphere.⁠

The notion of the obscured or masked face is further explored in the work of Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho in his beautifully vibrant embroidered painting “We are Hiding but Keep Fighting” (2022). Masks are a central element and ongoing motif of Nugroho’s practice that connect as a very symbolic part of traditional Javanese culture. In this way, the use of the image of the mask addresses ideas of concealment and disguise conceptually.

Drawing upon a long history of full-length portraiture, Gilbert & George’s seminal piece “Union Dance” (2008) from their JACK FREAK PICTURES series engages with the notion of disguise via their mask-like personas. Presented as living sculptures, the imagery of the pair within their own photo-collage work acts as a form of self-portraiture. As patron saints of contemporary British art, their imagery is charged with meaning from the wider culture that they exist within. Here, emblazoned by the iconic Union Jack flag, Gilbert & George masquerade, and play-act by poking their tongues out and standing on one leg, appearing to cheekily “take the mickey” out of British culture.

Alternative, emotionally-driven explorations into the creative field of portraiture are found within the work of Tahnee Lonsdale, Del Kathryn Barton and Lizzy Lunday. These female artists fuse the figurative with the imaginative spurring intimate, fantastical and vulnerable renditions of the human form that distort the boundaries between real and imagined realms.

Throughout this exhibition it becomes clear that contemporary portraiture can be considered through the lens of psychology and existentialism. Here, artists find a mode of expression and platform in order to represent an image of ourselves at a specific moment in time beyond simplistic and omnipresent narcissistic tendencies.

-Rachael Vance, ARNDT Collection Director