Bigger is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to an exhibition where anything can be art and everyone is an artist. The latest edition of the National Self-Portrait Exhibition is 300-percent larger than last year and fills up the entire 12,000 square feet of the first floor of the Zhou B. Art Center. At this rate, curator Sergio Gomez, who first created the show seven years ago in his small 33 Collective Gallery (now 33 Contemporary), will eventually move a mile east and fill up all of Cellular Field. Yes, it’s fun to grab a glass of wine and wade through the carnival of all the wild-desperate-cranky-wacky self-presentations. But at some point, one has to ask whether any of these selves are especially worth knowing.
Most of these images are heads floating in space, the most effective one being that of Harry Sudman, who only shows us his staring, piercing eyes in his billboard, commercial style. Also effective is the strong graphite rendering of “Portrait of Father (Hard Work)” by Adrian Wong. Wasn’t this supposed to be an exhibit of self-portraits? Yes, but what if you’re a young person whose hard-working father continues to be your role model?
A few have created a more detailed setting, and more often than not, that setting is the bathroom. There’s some strong figure painting as Marina Ross sprawls her lithe body across the toilet bowl and as Jennifer Cronin sets her naked bottom upon hers. But even more remarkable is the image of Brian Curtis as “Narcissus,” frozen in time as he stares into the mirror while leaning upon the sink, and “created in the understanding that the primary success and value of a work of art is determined by whether the direct sensory perception of the work triggers a ‘mega-whallop.’”
That’s a quote from the text that he, like everyone else, sent to accompany the work, and happily he can deliver just such a whallop, both as painter and writer—his 2001 book, “Drawing from Observation,” is now used as text in over 250 colleges and art schools. Curtis’ sense of time, place and person is far more compelling than the “Yikes, I’m an artist!” message that screams out from many other pieces.
Where does Sergio’s National Self-Portrait Show go from here? It doesn’t need to get any bigger. But it would be nice if he could attract more artists who were more about mastery and less about attitude. Perhaps next year’s show should call for whatever is not a self-portrait. (Chris Miller)
Through August 13 at the Zhou B. Art Center, 1029 West 35th Street.