Mask or Mirror? A Play of Portraits - Who is She

Act 1
Masculine Masquerade
Act 2
Who is She
Act 3
Family Values
Act 4
No Body
Kurt Kauper, Diva Fiction #6, 1997, oil on panel, Courtesy ACME., Los Angeles. James A. M. Whistler, Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket, 1877, oil on canvas, Museum purchase, 1910.5.
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Who is She? asks viewers to consider what portraits conceal and reveal about the multiple roles frequently played by a woman. Questions of resistance and conformity, artifice and fact, appearance and identity abound. Portraits of non-conformists like courtesan and poet Veronica Franco (by a follower of Tintoretto) and lesbian writer Gertrude Stein (by Imogen Cunningham) reveal women who dared to be accomplished at life and love. In the late 19th century, J.A.M. Whistler reduced his mistress to an abstract arrangement of color and form, while more recently Kurt Kauper's “Diva Fiction” eludes definition despite exacting realism (the lessonódo not confuse realism with fact!). Portrait performances like those by 18th century Charleston sitter Ann Gibbes (in collaboration with artist John Wollaston) or photographer Cindy Sherman allowed a woman to reinvent herself, to fantasize a role other than those she was assigned by society or actually “performed” everyday. In portraiture as in life, the female body remains a contested site. Consider the lady of Fontainebleau who is offered as the subject of a 16th century boudoir portrait or Catherine Opie's tattooed and dignified Jo. In each case it is her body but whose gaze?
Catherine Opie, Jo, 1993, chromogenic print, Museum purchase, 2002.36. School of Fontainebleau, Woman at Her Toilette, 1550-70, oil on panel, Museum purchase, 1932.23.
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