Beyond Likeness: Mapping the Self

February 19–April 3, 2016
Oscar F. and Louise Greiner Mayer Gallery 

A portrait communicates a social interaction as it maps or records an image of the self; it can be realistic, abstracting, or abstract, but is always based on an artist’s response to other identifiable human being. Beyond Likeness: Mapping the Self focuses on the differences of how portraits represent our public, private, reflected, and projected selves. Most, but not all of them habitual portraitists, the artists included in this exhibition adopted, moved beyond, or defied traditional conventions of portraiture as they explored and expanded diverse media. Many commemorated individuals they had never met and took prior pictorial, written, or imagined records only as starting points for their images.

As we compared and defined how our artists worked and thought about their practices and art, we discovered a productive link with the terminology of Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory. We framed our exhibition using Lacan’s notions of the gaze and vision in relation to the many “selves.” Lacan’s theorization of the gaze establishes a complex relationship between the “gazer”—one who is looking at something or someone—and the object of the representation, which, if it is a person, and it often is, looks back. In our categorization, the public self considers how the figure is seen in the world, while the private self examines the lack or desire underlying one’s own representation. The projected self explores our desire to be seen, and the ways we manipulate and maneuver this as we manicure our representation to be seen in a particular way. Its complement, the reflected self, investigates the affect of representation, and how we refuse to be seen as an image, as it demonstrates how any representation is a discursive and inherently problematic act.

Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by the Chazen Museum of Art and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Art History.


This exhibition and its related materials were researched, curated, and produced by members of Prof. Barbara C. Buenger’s Art History 602, Curatorial Studies class. The Curatorial Team: Elizabeth Bigelow, Barbara C. Buenger, Erin Green, Natalie Kirk, Sydney Krassen, Anna Lynn, Lauren Miller, Daria Modrzanska