This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today

Museum of Art Museum of Art

Exhibition: This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today



Media Gallery, Halford Gallery, Bernard and Barbro Osher Gallery, Focus Gallery, Center Gallery, Becker Gallery
Featuring iconic American Artists such as Marsden Hartley, Alfred Stieglitz, Robert Rauschenberg, Yoko Ono, Roni Horn, Glenn Ligon, and others, this timely and groundbreaking exhibition includes more than 60 abstract, symbolic, and conceptual portraits across a wide range of media - reexamining over a century of portraiture and inspiring new ways to see ourselves and others.

Selected Works

"This Is a Portrait of Iris Clert If I Say So," 1961, Telegram with envelope, by Robert Rauschenberg, 1925–2008. Collection Ahrenberg, Vevey, Switzerland. Art © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York
"Portrait," ca. 1914–1915, oil on canvas, Marsden Hartley, 1877–1943. Collection of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, bequest of Hudson D. Walker from the Ione and Hudson D. Walker Collection.
"Emmett at Twelve Months #3," 1994, egg tempera on panel, by Byron Kim, born 1961. Collection of the Artist. © The Artist / Image Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York and Shanghai.


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, director of curatorial affairs & curator of American art, the Columbus Museum, Columbus, Georgia; 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, Mary G. O'Connell and Peter J. Grua, the Stevens L. Frost Endowment Fund, an anonymous donor, the Shapell Family Art Fund, and the Roy A. Hunt Foundation.

Read the Press Release                       View the Checklist               Visit the ARTSY website


Enjoy this activity booklet prepared to accompany the exhibition, This Is a Portrait If I Say So.  Bowdoin student education assistants for the summer of 2016 authored this guide. Many thanks to Hailey Beaman ‘18, Steff Chávez-Flores ‘17, and Will Schweller ‘17.

Download the activity booklet here.

Visiting The Exhibition


Multimedia Resources

View a recording of the June 25, 2016 keynote presentation. Byron Kim, artist, was the keynote speaker, followed by a discussion with the exhibition co-curators, Anne Collins Goodyear, Kathleen Merrill Campagnolo, and Johathan Fredieric Walz.  The presentation took place on Saturday, June 25, 2015 at 4:00 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium, Bowdoin College.

View a short discussion about the exhibition with the three exhibition co-curators, Anne Collins Goodyear, Kathleen Merrill Campagnolo, and Johathan Frederick Walz.

View Sarah Greenough's lecture, "Passing into the World as Abstractions: Gorgia O'Keeffe's Painted Portraits."  Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs, National Gallery of Art, is celebrated for her numerous award-winning exhibitions and publications, including Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries (2001), and My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Volume One, 1915-1933 (2011). In this talk, she explores the portrait abstractions of Georgia O'Keeffe.  This lecture took place at Bowdoin College on September 6, 2016.

View L. J. Robert's lecture "Queer Strategies, Queer Tactics." Artist L.J. Roberts, whose work Portrait of Deb was included in This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today, speaks about the expression of LGBT identity through the visual arts. The lecture took place at Bowdoin College on October 5, 2016.

View Richard Saunder's lecture "Some Additional Observations on Identity in American Art." Saunders is a Walter Cerf Distinguished College Professor and director at Middlebury College Museum of Art. The lecture took place at Bowdoin College on October 12, 2016.

View artist Hasan Elaji's lecture, "The New Normal."  Hasan Elahi, a current Guggenheim Fellow whose work was included in "This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Art and Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today" at the Museum of Art, discusses his practice and the larger question of visual documentation and the representation of identity in the post-9/11 era.