Using Rembrant’s Self-Portrait with Two Circles as a starting point, the Gagosian Gallery explores how the art of self-portraits has developed over the centuries.

Self Portrait with Two Circles, Rembrandt van Rijn, English Heritage, The Iveagh Bequest (Kenwood, London). Photo (c) Historic England Photo Library.

On loan from Kenwood, Rembrandt’s Self Portrait with Two Circles forms the centre of this interesting examination of the directions that self-portraiture has taken in the last century.

Featuring works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele, Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol, Visions of Self: Rembrandt and Now displays an interesting mix of self-portraits that capture just how artists have transformed the art form to reflect their own practises and changing attitudes toward self-portraits.

Each room combines a mixture of contemporary and more traditional approaches to the art form, making for an interesting compare and contrast that highlights how it can be used to reflect how artists not only see themselves but how they feel that they are seen by others.

Many of the works that have been selected for display are bold and intriguing to look at. For example, Damien Hurst’s ‘With Dead Head’ is equally disturbing as it is somehow fascinating to look at, reflecting the artist’s attitude towards being in such close proximity to death – you don’t want to look at it but at the same time you can’t help but look at it.

Meanwhile, in contrast to this Richard Prince’s ‘Untitled (Portrait)’ which embraces the fact that we have all become self-portrait artists thanks to the rise in selfies and Instagram. This unique idea of a portrait highlights the point that portraits are a way of us attempting to show people who we really are or how we wish to be seen by others in a completely contemporary way.

But it has to be said that a lot of what the exhibition is trying to convey is open to interpretation, given there is a lack of information to help put an argument forward as to how self-portraits have transformed over the century. The layout and presentation of it all feels slightly muddled and not coherent.

Taken individually, many of the pieces on display have been well composed, with highlights including Diane Arbus’s self portrait of when she was pregnant – a frank photograph that feels like a celebration of being a woman and not being afraid of showing off who she is. Meanwhile, Ellen Gallagher’s ‘Odalisque’ is beautiful to look at, thoroughly drawing you into the image to the point of you wanting to step into it and find out what is happening.

Overall, while this exhibition features many exciting individual pieces that makes you see just how varied self-portraiture is – put them together it doesn’t feel as coherent as it could be.

By Emma Clarendon

Vision of the Self: Rembrandt and Now is on display at the Gagosian Gallery until the 18th May.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

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