BYRON KIM’S painting “Emmett at Twelve Months, #3” features colors derived from skin tones, hair and eye color of the artist’s son. The painting is part of Bowdoin College Museum of Art’s exhibit, “This Is a Portrait if I Say So.”

BYRON KIM’S painting “Emmett at Twelve Months, #3” features colors derived from skin tones, hair and eye color of the artist’s son. The painting is part of Bowdoin College Museum of Art’s exhibit, “This Is a Portrait if I Say So.”

BRUNSWICK

A n exhibit of 20th century American art is on display until Oct. 23 at Bowdoin College’s Museum of Art. Entitled “This Is a Portrait if I Say So” — a term taken from artist Robert Rauschenburg’s description of his portrait of Iris Claret in 1961 — the exhibit embodies three different time periods throughout the century, each with contemporary views on what a portrait is.

“Portraiture is a form of art that we associate with rigid conventions,” said Anne Collins Goodyear, co-director the museum along with her husband, Frank Goodyear. “The artists (displayed here) thought there shouldn’t be any rules when it comes to what is or isn’t considered a portrait. They’ve thrown the rules out the window, discarding the past in favor of a new vision for the future.”

The eras featured in the display — 1912-25, 1961-70 and 1990-present — provide a glimpse into how American art went beyond traditional boundaries in the past century.

“There was such political, social, technological and scientific revolution during those specific time periods,” said Goodyear. “Re-conception of portraiture is not isolated to those periods, but these are times when non-mimetic portraiture was certainly flourishing.”

Co-curators Jonathon Frederick Waltz and Kathleen Merrill Campagnolo — art scholars who were involved in the conversations, debates and research that led to the exhibit — were both on hand for a preview of the display on June 24. Waltz oversees the period from 1912-25, while Campagnolo is an expert on the unconventional portraiture in the 1960s.

“Subjects of the portraits were on the cutting edge of art in the ’60s,” said Campagnolo. “The artists often asked, ‘What does this object tell me about the person? What are they known for outside their physical being?’ More often than not, the portraits end up reflecting (the subject’s) cultural contribution.”

Artist Byron Kim, contributor to the exhibit and expert on the art scene of the past 20 years, stresses how important it is to be in touch with the art culture of past and present.

“It’s great to be in dialogue with the other artists,” Kim said. “Two of my colleagues are included (in this exhibit), and we talk all the time. But it’s important to look to the past, and learn from that.”

Kim said Felix Gonzales Torres, a key contributor to the exhibit who died of AIDS in 1996, was “the best artist of his generation.”

“He left the door open for our generation to continue his work,” Kim said.

“No one is truly unique in their art,” said Campagnolo. “We are all a product of those around us, before us. We can take courage from other artists, borrow their artistic dialogue. I think that’s what this exhibit is all about.”

Other artists on display include Marsden Hartley, Alfred Stieglitz, Yoko Ono, Roni Horn and Glenn Ligon.

Hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Summer Sunday hours are noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and national holidays.


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