‘Face to Face II’ presents a selection of international female artists revisiting Portraiture as we approach a new era of this genre. Portraiture has always been a pillar of art history, taking different forms throughout its development: from the Egyptian statues of Pharaohs to the Renaissance frescos of patrons, from Lucien Freud’s impasto works all the way to Warhol’s screen-prints. The dawn of the 21st Century allowed Portraiture to free itself from standardised canons, leading contemporary artists to engage with the genre with a multitude of different styles while exploring meaningful undertones and conveying significant messages.
Over the centuries, Portraiture has also often involved issues of privilege, raising the question of who has access to representation and who is erased, which bodies have been marginalised and overlooked, or exploited and appropriated, diminished and fetishised.Women, who have been frequently used as sitters with recurrent objectifying nuances, are now able to stand on the other side of the canvas and to reclaim their own image. This shift from represented object (or excluded object) to creating subject is a powerful one.
The reciprocal nature of the title 'Face to Face' suggests the exhibition’s aim to subvert the exclusionary history of Portraiture. While illustrating the various stylistic possibilities of Portraiture, the artists in this exhibition reiterate their role as creating subjects subverting the male gaze that has historically been the main focus of view and representation.
Face to Face II, the second iteration of our November 2022 group show, is part of the campaign ‘Portrait Mode’, launched by the National Portrait Gallery to mark their 2023 reopening, involving collaborations with art-world players across the UK and internationally.