Portrait II / Portrait IV
April 27 - June 10, 2017
The exhibition juxtaposes an early series of portraits by Hubertus Hamm (Portrait II, 1990) with his latest portrait (Portrait IV 2016), thereby throwing not only the artist's own development but also central aspects of his exploration of the portrait as a genre and the themes associated with it into sharp relief.
Portrait II and Portrait IV both deal with the portrait as an art form which depicts a person and their identity: in Portrait II the images taken by the photographer were exposed over the person's fingerprint; in Portrait IV, the viewer sees themselves reflected in a golden mirror. Portrait IV is the first mirror of solid gold (18 kg, 24 karat) in the history of art.
Thus not only do the two basic forms of portraits – the traditional (external) and the self-portrait – but also their most basic functions confront one another. Portrait II assumes its role in the service of identification and superimposes two of the earliest forms (fingerprint and photography) used for this purpose. In so doing, a “doubling” of the portrait, which shows the face of the person portrayed and their fingerprint, is achieved. Since the latter has been contributed by the person portrayed, they have added their individual imprint into their own portrait. This imprint serves the portrait, carries it and is carried by it. With the mirror, Portrait IV presents the first medium to make it possible to create an image of oneself , and, in so doing enabling one to determine their own identity – and not to simply leave this determination to others. At the same time, the piece utilizes the technical principles of photography and references the selfie, the most recent way to take a picture of oneself.
Thus, the exhibition incorporates very different questions which are linked to the portrait: How do I see myself? How do you see me? And how do I see you? What makes me who I am, and what makes you who you are? How are we and our images connected? And what does our (self-) image tell us about ourselves and our relationship to others? On a formal level, the pieces show movement, which is true of Hamm's artistic work in general. While Portrait II still leaves the image within the surface, Portrait IV places it in the room. For this exhibition, Hamm has sealed the pieces from 1990 in glass and has them floating in space; here already, movement is being intimated.
Whereas Portrait II doubly captures the person portrayed as a photo and as a fingerprint and joins these two elements so closely together that the one is only visible through the other and thus applies all of the means the image has to represent the person, Portrait IV creates only a very fleeting image of its observer. The piece, however, does not hold this image onto any surface, but places it in the auratic space behind the mirror, a space we can see but which we cannot reach.
Both aspects, of course, belong to the portrait: it tries to get hold of the person portrayed and at the same time moves them into the distance. It shows someone who is not there, or it shows us to be somewhere else than we are. Thus it always has something alien to it, and this alien quality has to make us wary of the piece.
Text by Björn Vedder Translation - Sean Kenney