It had to happen. In this modern 21st century digital age, if you are asked to do a self-portrait what do you do? A painting, a selfie, a drawing, or – yes – a social media feed. When do die, what will be left of you? Unless you have commissioned a formal portrait, it may be your facebook page, your twitter feed, your instagram account or, if you have one, your blog – until it disappears into the ether.
In the centre of the room Urs Fischer’s wax self-portrait sits at a table, looking like an escapee from Madame Tussaud’s, with the light coming in from the street outside, has the media feed of Richard Prince alongside it. This, Prince’s self portrait of 2019 contrasts with the star in the show, Rembrandt’s ‘Self Portrait with Two Circles’ dating from over 350 years ago.
Rembrandt’s self-portrait normally hangs in Kenwood in Hampstead, the Robert Adam house which is now owned by English Heritage. As the first exhibition of a new partnership between English Heritage and the Gagosian Gallery, the Rembrandt self -portrait is here at the Gagosian in Mayfair, on the 350th anniversary of his death, surrounded by self-portraits by many of our most renowned contemporary artists including Andy Warhol, Lucien Freud, Jenny Saville, Pablo Picasso, Gerhard Richter, Roy Lichtenstein, Francis Bacon, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, many of whom reference back to Rembrandt in their work.
The work is varied – with photography by the likes of Robert Mablethorpe, Damien Hirst, Man Ray and Diane Arbus interspersed with prints, drawings and paintings and then, as a final commentary, Charles Ray’s Male Mannequin reminding us that when we trip away all the trappings of contemporary society, there is an individual, a soul, a person. We are born into the world naked, and we leave naked. Artists leave behind their art incorporating their personality as we can see in Rembrandt’s painting, which remains as powerful and accomplished today as it was 350 years ago and puts some of the 21st century artists into the shade.
A fascinating first exhibition – it will be interesting to see how the partnership develops.