Looking Inward: Artist Self-Portraits

Images of two sculptural self-portraits made by Xavier Veilhan

(Left) Xavier Veilhan, Xavier, 2006. Polyurethane, epoxy paint, 59 3/4 x 20 1/2 x 18 in. Private Collection, New York © 2012 Veilhan / ADAGP, Paris, and ARS, New York Courtesy Gallerie Perrotin. Photo: André Morin (Right) Installation view of (IN)balance. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

If you haven’t been in person to see Xavier Veilhan’s sculptural self-portraits in his exhibition at the Phillips, (IN)balance, you’re in for a surprise. What you can’t tell from these image is that the statues are just shy of life-size. Measuring about 5 feet tall, these statues seem to be exact replicas of the artist—just tinier. This (no pun intended) small but significant detail begs the question: what is the purpose of a self-portrait? Is it to record a moment in time, to challenge oneself to make the truest likeness possible, to make an inward-looking statement, or all of the above?

Veilhan answered this question in part during a recent interview with Express‘s Mark Jenkins, stating “for me, they’re not really self-portraits. There is no attempt to show something psychologically about myself.” But what about the artists who do intend these likenesses to reveal something about themselves?

I looked to our own collection to investigate the relationship between artist and self-portrait, and found that I had a lot to work with. We have a stoic Paul Cézanne, a somber Käthe Kollwitz, a dark Edvard Munchthe list goes on. Among diverse styles, I found a consistent message: this is who I am as an artist, inside and out. In contrast to the free experimentation you might find in other works by these same artists, self-portraits tend to have calculated details. Cézanne’s facial features are constructed with his signature block-like brush strokes, Milton Avery strives to exemplify the bohemian artist (note the dangling cigarette, beret, and all), and Augustus Vincent Tack actually uses one of his own paintings as a backdrop.

My personal favorite self-portrait in The Phillips Collection is the one by Piet Mondrian. After a lifetime of associating this artist with stark, geometric grids, the fluid and painterly style he uses here came as a shock.

Amy Wike, Publicity and Marketing Coordinator

(Left) Piet Mondrian, Self-Portrait, c. 1900. Oil on canvas, 20 x 15 1/2 in. Acquired 1958. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (Middle) Milton Avery, Self-Portrait with Red Tam and Scarf, 1938. Oil on canvas, 22 in x 14 in. Gift of Louis and Annette Kaufman Trust, 2008. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (Right) Joseph De Martini, Self-Portrait, c. 1943. Oil on canvas, 48 7/8 x 30 1/4 in. Acquired 1943. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

A Lego Challenge By the Numbers

Legos at Pa5 Photo Collage

Phillips after 5 visitors use Legos to create sculptures inspired by the work of Danish artist Per Kirkeby

135 participants of all ages

3,300 Legos of all sizes

89 total Instragrams

51 submissions

8 winners

3 hours of fun

The Phillips’s first-ever Lego challenge was a great success! The tables in the Main Gallery were packed all night with Phillips after 5 guests who built their own Per Kirkeby-inspired masterpieces. Visitors snapped photos of their creations with Instagram and tagged their pictures #PhillipsPlaysWell, in honor of Lego’s Danish roots, for a chance to win prizes. Check out winning photos below, and find the rest of the submissions @phillipscollection on Instagram.

Margaret Collerd,  Public Programs and In-gallery Interpretation Coordinator

Lego winners collage

The winning photos. Clockwise from top left: Windy Tree by Andrew M., Fallen Tree III by cerin, Untitled by ianjannetta, Untitled by mrsmerkel, New Shadows by Jessica, Sans Titre by Chris Z., and On the Floor by matthewbaileyseigel.

Play Well

Instagramed images of lego sculptures paired with the Per Kirkeby paintings that inspired them

Left to right: Lego man amidst the trees by Margaret Collerd, inspired by Per Kirkeby’s Untitled (2009); Climbing Shadows by Amy Wike, inspired by Per Kirkeby’s New Shadows V (1996); Fire Engine #5 by Michelle Herman, inspired by Per Kirkeby’s Inferno V (1992)

Phillips staff with bins of legos, creating sculptures

Phillips staff use images from Per Kirkeby’s exhibition to inspire Lego sculptures.

Did you know that LEGO is an abbreviation of two Danish words–“leg godt”–meaning “play well”? Neither did I! But I took this inspiring etymology to heart when developing a Lego challenge for the upcoming January 3 Arctic Expedition Phillips after 5. Inspired by Danish artist Per Kirkeby’s layered colorful abstractions, Phillips staff built our own Lego sculptures. Like kids on Christmas morning, we spread out on my office floor with focused attention to come up with our own Lego creations and Instagram them.

On January 3, you have a chance to “play well,” and win a host of prizes! Visit the museum during Phillips after 5 (5–8:30 pm; be sure to make a reservation) and peruse the Per Kirkeby: Paintings and Sculpture exhibition for inspiration. Then stop by the Lego tables, build your own sculpture, and share it on Instagram with the title of your choice and #PhillipsPlaysWell. You’ll be entered to win great prizes, including a Phillips Contemporaries membership, tickets to The Kennedy Center’s Nordic Cool festival opening concert, a one-year Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) membership, and more. Follow us on Instagram (@phillipscollection) for some pre-event inspiration.

Margaret Collerd,  Public Programs and In-gallery Interpretation Coordinator