Exhibition “Ich/Nicht-Ich (Me/Not Me) – Self-Portraits” – Kunsthaus Zurich

Exhibition “Ich / Nicht Ich (Me / Not Me) – Self portraits in art history in Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland (27 Nov 2015 – 28 Feb 2016) http://www.kunsthaus.ch/en/exhibitions/current/picture-ballot/


A kind of follow-up visit on previous researches for part 4 (Schaffeld, 5 Jul 2015).  The works on show were from the collection of the Kunsthaus. This exhibition was a bit hidden behind the major exhibition of Joan Miró at the same time. I went to this exhibition for further stimulation and perhaps new perspectives with original works besides my recent research on self-portraits (Schaffeld, 27 Sep 2015). Besides more traditional self-portraits, there were a few more photographic and video installations on view. Unfortunately now drawings were on display. I selected a view works as I found them characteristic for the shift in self-portraits as a subject over the last century: from showing the image and the world of the artist, reviewing his/her identity, through more investigative approaches and new ways with new media to challenge the limits of identities.


  • Johannes Itten (1888- 1967) “Self-Portrait“, 1917
    Oil on board (54 x 45 cm)

    => a deconstructed self-portrait were the portrait as such is less important than the ‘uniformity [that] can be only achieved through a balance of contrasting elements as movement, color, and form (in art, but also in life)‘ (Hardier, 2015, p.43).
    The artist himself is painted with closed eyes as a metaphor for the rationale thinking about the subject. This work reminds me of the sequential deconstructed self-portraits of Max Gubler (see my post from July 5th, 2015)).
    This in contrast to another self-portrait from André Breton:
  • André Breton (1896 – 1966) “Photomaton, Self-portrait“, 1929
    silver-gelation print (10.2 x 3.8 cm)

    => where the closed eyes of the artist are a metaphor for the opening field of inner imagination. Breton was quite interested in the area of dreams and the unconsciousness. (Hardier, 2015, p.47)
  • Herbert Bayer (1900 – 1985) “Self-Portrait in Mirror”, 1928

    => Bayer used mirrors to look at the spatial relationship of the human and its environment. Mirrors help to approach oneself at different levels. By that an ambiguous system of reference is shown to convey possible realities and identities.This one is constrasting with the more modern approach of using mirrors of Peter Campus
  • Peter Campus (b. 1937) “Three Transitions“, 1973
    Video, color, audio (4min:43sec)

    video still

    [Online video] Available from: https://youtu.be/Ar99AfOJ2o8 [accessed 16 Dec 2015]
    => Three sequences about images of the artist that get destroyed by the artist himself: a) cutting through the projection of the artist and slipping through the hole, b) re-painting his face as an overlay of screen, c) burning the image of himself till only a black screen is visible. Campus plays with at that time new media of video (a kind of mirror), screen projection and overplayed images to bring forward his quite strong concept of constructing and destroying the image of one self. He raises the question of the identify and its resolution.

  • Gillian Wearing (B. 1963) “Self-Portrait as my Mother Jean Gregory“, 2003
    Black and white print (135 x 116 cm)

    [Online image] Available from: http://www.maureenpaley.com/artists/gillian-wearing/images/10  [accessed 16 Dec 2015]
    => Wearing is taken on other roles and masks, imitating the image of another person.  This let me think about Cindy Sherman and her works with masquerade and masks. She is also known for her kind of documentary images and videos but with with models staging the character of another person. Wearing opens questions as related to the role and the identity of one self. In this way it is more the embodiment of the artist of another (fictional) character and to place this image in a social-cultural-political context (see Greenberger, 2013)


  • Self-portraits, as already investigated in research (27 Sep 2015), are a theme that can be explored far beyond the image of the artist. It can either help to reflect on the artist’s identity or to mirror the image the artist wants to convey. Here the “Me” is still the main topic.
  • Nowadays (since the 1960s) self-portraits go beyond this. It is not any longer the image of a self (Not-Me) but rather an exploration of new ideas and limits. The portrait becomes a more interactive medium looking at the relationships of the artist, the portrait, and the viewer. With deconstructed images, strong bodily awareness, and different media the self-reflection of the human viewer is under discussion.
  • Ambiguity through mirrors or deconstructed images supports the more interactive role of the viewer.
  • Thinking about mirrors, I am wondering how a black mirror could be used, as it tends to have an abstracting effect on the reflected image and it reduces and simplifies the color and tonal range. This brings me to my project of reflection (inner-, self-, surface-, urban- etc. reflections).
  • Through building an image based on different layers or perspectives can be a quite interactive and sensual experience.

Image courtesy: Kunsthaus Zurich

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