Critics’ Picks

View of “Selbstbildnis,” 2019.

View of “Selbstbildnis,” 2019.

Berlin

“Selbstbildnis”

Société
Genthiner Strasse 36

“SELBSTBILDNIS”
Berlin
September 12–October 25

“Selbstbildnis” examines the evolution of self-portraiture from the 1970s to today. While most of the artworks in the exhibition are pulled from the gallery’s roster of contemporary artists—Trisha Baga, Petra Cortright, and Ned Vena, among others—the exhibition’s selection of historical works weaves a thread that is meditative rather than disputative. That all the 1970s works by women are photographic pinpoints the exhilarating moment that women turned to the medium—indexically physical and inherently surreal—to pave new, radical modes of self-description. Hannah Wilke and Francesca Woodman’s enchanting black-and-white photographs of their bodies interacting with sexually clichéd props—including a pistol, high heels, and suspenders—invert the male gaze; in So Help Me Hannah, 1978, Wilke actually is ascending a staircase. More penetrative than her second-wave predecessors, the immediate, casual camcorder in Tracey Emin’s CV Cunt Vernacular, 1997, travels through her messy apartment while she recites her sexual history, turning the everyday into an allegory of a narcissistic journey.

The curators have left the sequencing of the six-room show open-ended, but also the interpretations, letting viewers spark their own reconsiderations of self-portraiture through juxtapositions. A charming if blunt figurative equivalence, for instance, is made between Wolfgang Tillmans’s photograph of a male nude crawling in chiaroscuro along a sea coast (Animalistique, 2017) and Jeanette Mundt’s oil painting of a woman on all fours confined in a Baconesque cage (Climbing, 2019). In the same room, Kaspar Müller’s investigation into spiritual decora glittering, rhinestoned Mandala, 2019—is installed near On Kawara’s systematic idiosyncrasy in the “Today” series canvas July 9, 1981. Various abstractions of both the self and its depictive mechanisms clash, brushing up, too, against the idea of an immanent identity to which one is destined, obliged, and enlisted.