Writing about Vincent van Gogh: 42 Self Portraits included in the exhibition Again + Again at Austin Museum of Art, courtesy of James Housefield, Ph.D. & the Austin Museum of Art.
Dane Picard works with material that is more familiar than we might recognize, condensing Vincent Van Gogh: 42 Self-Portraits (2004) into less than a minute of video. As Picard’s short video loops repeatedly, Van Gogh’s face transforms seamlessly from one familiar image into another. Because we know the subject, we pay attention while remarking upon aspects we may not have recognized before (notice how the artist’s swollen cheek expands to become the cheek of another self-portrait?). Ultimately, we may see Van Gogh in a new light.
Cycles of projected light make visible human cycles of life, bound to history, as a small swath of Van Gogh’s brief life appears to play itself out in rapidly accelerated time. In related works he has similarly exercised his background in experimental animation (the focus of his 1992 MFA from CalArts) to similarly animate the face of Rembrandt, equally famous for self-portraiture. While Picard condenses the days of Van Gogh’s life, he also makes visible the extensive (and often concealed) time required of artistic creation.
Van Gogh’s modernism is heralded as the harbinger of Expressionism, in which each brushstroke contributes to the artist’s goal of communicating emotions through paint and canvas. Paradoxically, Picard works with computer technologies that are generally considered impersonal. As the shifting 42 self-portraits show Van Gogh in a new light, ever-changing yet trapped in his own self-depictions, Picard’s work raises questions about the possibility for artistic expression today.
By looping the short cycles of the repeated 42 self portraits, Picard calls attention to the power of repetition in constructing the histories of art and taste. Artists and museum visitors today are more likely to know past artworks through mechanically reproduced images than through direct experience of the originals. Picard shows that each of these reproduced images may take on a life of their own, appearing to live, breathe, and grow in time.
James Housefield, Ph.D.
National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities and Associate Professor of the History of Art, Texas State University–San Marcos
Adjunct Curator, Austin Museum of Art