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MFA : Personal Space – Self-Portraits on Paper


Can a self-portrait depict more than just an artist’s physical appearance? The dozens of contemporary works on paper in “Personal Space,” ranging from straightforward representations of the self to more conceptual renderings, show an expanding definition of self-portraiture. Traditional self-portraits by major artists like Käthe Kollwitz and Jim Dine are on view here alongside experiments in the genre, such as Robert Rauschenberg’s Booster (1967), a monumental lithograph that uses X-rays of the artist’s own body. Works by younger generations of artists serve to broaden, subvert, and reinvent the notion of self-portraiture. Willie Cole’s Man Spirit Mask (1991) uses the household iron as a symbol to suggest domestic servitude, the branding of slaves, and the shape of African masks; in an untitled lithograph by Kiki Smith (1990), Xerox transfers of the artist’s tangled hair become a Pollock-like abstraction; and Glenn Ligon’s print series Runaways (1993) mimics the tone of 19th-century broadsides that advertised runaway slaves, substituting descriptions of Ligon written by his friends to form a kind of composite self-portrait. A newly acquired highlight is Balding (2017), a set of 21 meticulously rendered drawings by SMFA graduate Cobi Moules, in...

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