Earlier this month, Xavier Veilhan installed Jean-Marc, his first permanent public sculpture in the U.S., a stone’s throw away from MoMA on the corner of 53rd Street and Sixth Ave. in New York City. Photos of the installation are up on the artist’s website. On a trip to attend the opening of Wolfgang Laib’s Pollen from Hazelnut at MoMA, Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski passed the giant blue sculpture and immediately noted “there seems to be a nice artistic symmetry between 53rd Street NYC and Q & 21st in D.C.” The sharp edges and larger-than-life quality of the sculpture do indeed bear a striking resemblance to Veilhan’s The Bear outside the Phillips.
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 Munch—the 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
Have you seen the red bear? That is the first question I ask visitors when beginning a Then and Now tour. Grinning and nodding are the usual reactions. I then point to the Xavier Veilhan installation inside the museum, and say that it is by the same artist who created The Bear (2010). The grins flatten and eyes express puzzlement. These contrasting reactions offer the perfect segue into a discussion about what makes The Phillips Collection different. Museum founder Duncan Phillips felt this museum should be about experiencing art in new ways and making connections to the past and present in an intimate place. It is why we can choose to display a lipstick red (or Ferrari red, as the artist prefers) bear outside and indoors show paintings that the same artist made without using his hands. In the Pendule-Dripping series, Veilhan sets a pendulum vial filled with paint in motion to describe liquid circles. Voila–a painting untouched by the hand of the artist!–yet it reminds us of Foucault’s great pendulum, which dramatically described the earth’s rotation in 1851.
The exhibition is called (IN)balance. It is about interconnectivity and opposites such as: indoor and outdoor, representation of man and abstraction of woman, sculpture and painting, to name a few.
Lisa Leinberger, Volunteer Coordinator