Exhibition, Book, and Symposium Present Innovative Exploration of Portraiture

October 30, 2013


“Striking Resemblance” Breaks New Ground in Portraiture at Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers


New Brunswick, NJ – Spanning two centuries and surveying work by close to 80 artists from around the world, a new exhibition at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers presents an innovative exploration about an enduring subject: the portrait. “Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture,” on view from January 25 through July 13, 2014, examines the genre as a historic tradition, as well as a continually evolving phenomenon.

Organized in sections devoted to the single, double, and group portrait, this exhibition presents a fundamentally new and exciting account of how people view themselves, their significant others, and their tribes. Included among some 130 works in many media are 50 from the Zimmerli’s collection and 80 loans from private and public collections around the country. The Zimmerli’s rich holdings of American, European, Russian, and Soviet art give this exhibition a distinct character, while loans from public and private collections offer a global perspective. The diversity of subjects in age, ethnicity, gender, and class reflects the global village that we increasingly inhabit.

“’Striking Resemblance’ is part of an ambitious, multi-dimensional collaboration,” explains Suzanne Delehanty, the Zimmerli’s director. Exhibition organizers Donna Gustafson, the Zimmerli’s Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator, and Susan Sidlauskas, Professor and Graduate Director in the Department of Art History at Rutgers, began working on the project in 2011and co-taught an exhibition seminar and coordinated a colloquium for 13 graduate students in 2012. In early 2013, with contributions from these graduate students, the Zimmerli launched its first online publication, “Not About Face: Identity and Appearance, Past and Present.” Delehanty continues, “This exhibition embodies new scholarship in art – as well as the university’s commitment to excellence in teaching, research, and public service – that we are delivering to a worldwide audience, near and far.”

“Historically, portraiture is a popular genre and there have been many studies of the portrait and the self-portrait: as a phenomenon of class and power, a democratized art, and an expression of personal exploration,” observes Gustafson.

“This exhibition takes a new approach to portraiture: through the lens of social engagement,” adds Sidlauskas. “We focused on the portrait as a social medium to think about how we present ourselves, our significant relationships, and our communities.”

Opening with a group of portraits of individuals, the exhibition focuses on the portrait as a means by which individuals are honored and remembered by their friends and families. Among the earliest works on view are oil paintings from the Zimmerli’s collection. The portraits of “Lucretia Harris Holmes” (mid-late 1830s), attributed to Ammi Phillips, and “Portrait of Princess Ekaterina Nikolaevna Lopukhina (Portrait of a Lady)” from 1799, attributed to Russian artist Petr Levitsky, represent this traditional notion of the single portrait. Other early 19th-century selections include English and American eye portrait miniatures, on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which were popularly carried as sentimental mementoes of family members or friends.

These early portrait traditions are updated by contemporary artists. Tabitha Vevers, with her own series of “Lover’s Eyes” (2002-2012), nods to the tradition of the eye portrait miniature, incorporating such subjects as those painted by Bronzino, Manet, and Rosetti. “The Origins of Socialist Realism” (1983) represents an ironic “history portrait” by Russian artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. A key painting of the Zimmerli’s Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, this representation of Stalin incorporates the mythic origin of painting with the propaganda portrait to comment on how histories are written, as well as the relationship of art and power.

Throughout the exhibition, viewers are challenged to explore the very essence of identity, in particular with contemporary portraits that do not focus on the image of a person. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled (Double Portrait)” from 1991, a stack of printed sheets with an interlocking double circle, invites visitors to interact with the portrait by taking a sheet with them. Janice Krasnow’s “Portrait of Serena” (1999) portrays fellow artist and friend Serena Bocchino using a written description of her face on a white panel. Do Ho Suh’s self-portrait “Uni-Form/s: Self Portrait/s: All My 39 Years” (2006) includes a series of school and military uniform jackets obediently lined up one behind the other, from smallest to largest.

Double portraits in the exhibition explore connections between pairs, including lovers, parents and children, and siblings; even the self, represented twice in the same image. These double portraits often reveal our most intimate encounters: twin portraits by Mary Ellen Mark suggest the strength of the bond between pairs of identical twins, while Catherin Opie’s portrait of “Melissa and Lake” (1998) or the nestled hands of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning focuses on the intimate love of a couple. Contemporary artists have explored a more fluid definition of identity in recent years to make political and humorous points. In Yuri Albert’s “Self-portrait like Another Artist” (1991), the Russian artist’s face assumes the mask of an American artist, Andy Warhol, known for his practice of sending doubles to appear in his place at events. 

“Striking Resemblance” also compels us to consider our own relationships with groups of people. Whether portraits of family groups or people united by a common interest, we find ourselves wanting to both stand out from and fit in with the crowd. Photographers August Sander, Rineke Dijkstra, and Vladimir Kupriyanov create solutions to the particular problems raised by the group portrait with individuals that read as members of a social circle: lined up neatly in a row as in Sander’s “Gymnastics Club”; clustered together through the ebb and flow of affection in Dijkstra’s representation of adolescent girls on the beach “Castricum aan Zee, the Netherlands”; and divided up, framed as distinct parts, then reassembled as a group, as Kuprianov has done in “Cast Me Not Away from Your Presence.” These images and other works in the exhibition remind us that we continually evaluate and adjust the ever-shifting relationships between ourselves and our friends, colleagues, and families.

Portraits are part of our everyday lives. Pictures of family and friends stir up memories and emotions. A biography that accompanies an image of a public figure, or even a stranger, may encourage us to recognize personal traits in the physical appearance. But when there is no information about the sitter or the artist, we often are left asking: Who? Where? When? Why?

In what may be one of the original “selfie” assemblages, “445 Portraits of a Man” (c. 1930s-1940s) captures an anonymous subject, by an unidentified artist. This extraordinary collection of photo booth images taken over many years – loaned from a private collection and never before publically exhibited – provokes many questions about the artist and the subject. Who is the artist, who was the subject, are they the same person? Why would this archive of an individual man have been produced and how was it saved for us to see?

How will future generations interpret the billions of online profile pictures – or, portraits – that eventually will become disconnected from their original contexts? Is each of our own archives of self-portraits destined to become an “Unknown Subject” or “Unidentified Artist” with a lost history?


The 176-page, fully illustrated hardcover book “Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture” accompanies the exhibition, with a release date in early January. The single, double, and group portrait – from the 18th century to the present – are the focus of the volume. Essays by Donna Gustafson, Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator, Susan Sidlauskas, Professor of Art History at Rutgers, and Lee Siegel, writer and cultural critic, provide thought-provoking and fascinating perspectives that appeal to readers interested in art history and social criticism, as well as psychology and social media. Co-published by the Zimmerli and DelMonico/Prestel, the book features more than 130 color images, many of which are included in the exhibition.


The Zimmerli invites the public to the symposium “Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture” and welcomes Eric R. Kandel as the keynote speaker on Friday, March 7, 2014. The program continues on Saturday, March 8, with a panel of scholars from disciplines in the arts and sciences who discuss a variety of perspectives that explore the changing definitions of the portrait from the 19th century to the present, as well as the ways we present and see ourselves. Registration information will be announced in November.

Dr. Kandel is author of the 2012 book “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present,” which is a study of portraiture, as well as articles about the importance of interdisciplinary research. At Columbia University, he is a University Professor and Kavli Professor of Brain Science, as well as Director of The Kavli Institute for Brain Science. In 2000, Dr. Kandel received a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.


This exhibition was organized by Donna Gustafson, Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator at the Zimmerli, and Susan Sidlauskas, Professor and Graduate Director in the Department of Art History at Rutgers. Gustafson has curated the Zimmerli exhibitions “at/around/beyond: Fluxus at Rutgers,” “Rachel Perry Welty 24/7,” “Water,” and “Lalla Essaydi: Les femmes du Maroc.” Sidlauskas has written about portraiture in the work of Degas, Ingres, Sargent, Vuillard, Cindy Sherman, and Manet, including “Body, Place and Self in Nineteenth-Century Painting” (2000) and “Cézanne’s Other: The Portraits of Hortense” (2009).

The development of the exhibition benefited from the expertise of the Zimmerli’s Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator of European Art; Marilyn Symmes, Director of Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings; and Julia Tulovsky, Associate Curator for Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art. Additional planning support was provided by the students who participated in the “Not About Face” graduate exhibition seminar: Corina L. Apostol, Sara Berkowitz, Kelsey Brosnan, Heather Cammarata-Seale, Boyoung Chang, Allison Cooper, Seraphina Ferraro, Natalie Fleming, Elvis Fuentes, Virginia Allison Harbin, Alexis Jason-Mathews, Stephen Mandravelis, and Josephine Rodgers.


The exhibition is supported in part by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Dorothy Dehner Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., and donors to the Zimmerli’s Annual Exhibition Fund:  Voorhees Family Endowment; Alvin and Joyce Glasgold; Keith E. McDermott, RC’ 66; the Rutgers Class of 1959 in honor of their 55th reunion; Charles and Caryl Sills; and the Jerome A. Yavitz Charitable Foundation, Inc.—Stephen Cypen, President. The exhibition seminar, ebook, book, and symposium are made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. Founded in 1966 to serve the campus and community, the Zimmerli is now one of the nation’s largest and most distinguished university-based art museums, located in a 70,000-square-foot building on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.


The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, and the Voorhees Family Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; and donors, members, and friends of the museum.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street at George Street on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.


Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Wednesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays, major holidays, and the month of August.

Z Café featuring the Food Architects is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items.


Admission is $6 for adults; $5 for 65 and over; and free for museum members, children under 18, and Rutgers students, faculty, and staff (with ID). Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month. For more information, call 848.932.7237 or visit the museum’s website: www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu


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