True Self: The Search for Identity in Modern and Contemporary Art
August 18, 2010 to June 26, 2011

The notion of the “self,” the essential quality that makes a person distinct from all others, is a core theme in modern and contemporary art. Its primary formats are the portrait and self-portrait, which focus on the identity and psychology of the model. For the artist, the true self is fluid, not fixed; layered, not clearly evident. The true self is both innate and determined by experience and culture. Never consistent, it is often self-contradictory.

True Self: The Search for Identity in Modern and Contemporary Art explores the ways artists have understood and conveyed the essence of the self—through facial expression, body language, dress, and the particulars of setting—in a selection of paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs. Drawn from MMoCA’s permanent collection, the exhibition lists a broad range of artists, including Thomas Hart Benton, Sonya Clark, Chuck Close, Käthe Kollwitz, Alfred Leslie, Diego Rivera, Cindy Sherman, Hollis Sigler, Raphael Soyer, and Ida Wyman.

True Self is organized by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and is on view in the museum’s Henry Street Gallery. Exhibitions in the Henry Street Gallery are generously funded through an endowment established by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.

RELATED PROGRAMMING

Thursday, September 30 • 12:30-1 pm
Richard H. Axsom on True Self
MMoCA curator of collections, Dr. Richard H. Axsom, will provide an overview of the ways in which contemporary artists have represented the “self.” A wide range of approaches will be investigated, from David Hockney’s unusual portrait, Panama Hat, to the layered identities implicit in Sonya Y.S. Clark’s The Wig Series. As Axsom says in his exhibition notes, “For the artist, the true self is fluid, not fixed; layered, not clearly evident. The true self is both innate and determined by experience and culture. Never consistent, it is often self-contradictory.”

Dr. Axsom’s talk is presented in conjunction with the 2010 Wisconsin Book Festival.

Saturday, October 9 • 11-11:30 am 
Drop-in Tour
Docent Gil Hillman will discuss artists’ intentional distortions of the literal image to reveal the character of their subjects. The discussion will focus on works in True Self and Clayton Brothers: Inside Out.

Saturday, November 13 • 11-11:30 am
Drop-in Tour
Carol Hay will investigate the diverse messages and means by which artists have conveyed the essence of “self” in a variety of works from MMoCA’s permanent collection.

February 10 • 12:30-1:00 pm
Photographers Search for the True Self
MMoCA curator of collections Dr. Richard H. Axsom will discuss the search for “true self” in photographs by John Coplans, Mark Goodman, Duane Michels, Richard Misrach, Lorie Novak, Cindy Sherman, Ida Wyman, and Jin Lee.