With a title that plays on Robert Rauschenberg´s infamous 1961 portrait of Iris Clert–a telegram that simply states, “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so”—this major groundbreaking exhibition examines the rise and evolution of symbolic, abstract, and conceptual portraiture in modern and contemporary American Art during the past century. Featuring nearly seventy-five works by leading American innovators from Gertrude Stein, Marsden Hartley, and Alfred Stieglitz, to Robert Rauschenberg, Yoko Ono, and Eleanor Antin, to Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Glenn Ligon, and L.J. Roberts, This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today represents the first exhibition to address the breadth and significance of the phenomenon of non-mimetic portraits in American art. The show poses provocative questions about the very nature of likeness and personal identity.
The sumptuously illustrated accompanying catalogue, published by Yale University Press, explores portraiture as a site of artistic experimentation, in works that shift the genre from one based on mimesis to one stressing symbolic associations between artists and subjects. Featuring over 100 color illustrations this publication probes the way we think about and picture the self and others. Essays exploring three significant periods of experimentation in portraiture during the past century: the 1910s-20s; 1960s, and 1990 – present have been prepared, respectively, by each of the three curators of the exhibition: Jonathan Frederick Walz, curator of American art at the Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Kathleen Merrill Campagnolo, independent curator and scholar, and Anne Collins Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Dorinda Evans, professor emerita at Emory University, contributed a study of the prehistory of symbolic and abstract portraiture in the United States.
This exhibition and the accompanying catalogue would not be possible without numerous generous funders to whom we express our deep appreciation. A major grant from the Henry Luce Foundation provided critical support. A Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Studies Grant made possible early exhibition research. Invaluable to our efforts have been the encouragement and exceptional generosity of Eric S. and Svetlana G. Silverman, Edward S. and Caroline H. Hyman, the Becker Fund for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, the Elizabeth B. G. Hamlin Fund, the Devonwood Foundation, halley k harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld, Mary K. McGuigan and John F. McGuigan Jr., Thomas A. and Hannah Weil McKinley, the Stevens L. Frost Endowment Fund, an anonymous donor, the Shapell Family Art Fund, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Roy A. Hunt Foundation.