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"Douglas Gordon‘s The VANITY of Allegory"
2005-07-16 until 2005-10-09
Deutsche Guggenheim
Berlin, , DE

The Deutsche Guggenheim presents Douglas Gordon’s The VANITY of Allegory, a self-portrait in the guise of a group exhibition, from July 16 to October 9, 2005. Scottish-born artist Douglas Gordon is an inveterate storyteller. The fictions that he weaves extend outward from the objects of his art — film, video, sound installations, photographs, and text works — to encompass his own artistic persona. Self-representation or, more accurately, Gordon’s staging of a mutable and enigmatic self, constitutes a significant component of his practice — a component that is largely performative and indirect. Conceived specifically for the Deutsche Guggenheim, The VANITY of Allegory explores the notion of the veiled self-portrait as an art-historical trope, a literary device, and a cinematic strategy while it examines the intersection of vanitas, as a meditation on the ephemeral nature of life itself, and self-representation as an act of vanity and a ploy to remain immortal.

For The VANITY of Allegory, Gordon turned to the histories of art and film for his source material, appropriating existing works as so many readymades with which to articulate his theme. His installation — which houses its own cinema — includes loans from the Guggenheim Museum and private collections, as well as examples of his own work and that of his peers. By combining historical and contemporary art and film, Gordon has created a visual collage that narrates issues of self-representation and double identity. The result is a folly, a playful mosaic of an exhibition, which reflects some of the more profound themes at the core of Gordon’s art: the temporality of life, the struggle between good and evil, and the dialectical relationship between opposites.

The exhibition is in and of itself a work of art in which Gordon conflates the egotistical search for perpetual recognition and the anxiety one experiences about the transience of life, suggesting that together they form the impulse behind artistic creativity. The endeavor begins with a signature — specifically, the inscription that Pietro Perugino painted on the arrow that pierces the neck of St. Sebastian (1493-94): “Petrus Perusinus pinxit”. The insertion of Perugino’s name into the painting sets off a chain of associations — from the fine line between violence and eroticism (the dart/name penetrates its subject) to the narcissism of the artist. Since Perugino was clearly proclaiming his authorship, Gordon read this painting as his veiled self-portrait of the artist, while recognizing Perugino’s strangely intimate relationship to the subject. In response to this work, Gordon has claimed that it is impossible to say where the allegory (about martyrdom, spiritual salvation, mortality) ends and vanity begins.

When Gordon includes his own image in a work, he is inevitably in disguise. In his photograph Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain, as Andy Warhol, as Myra Hindley, as Marilyn Monroe (1996), he depicts himself wearing an ill-fitting blonde wig, constructing a multivalent identity that refuses to cohere around references to four tabloid personalities. In other words, it is an example of the artist inserting himself into an image via the guise of someone else, a performative transvestism that allows him to both expand upon and deflect the notion of a unitary self. It is no surprise, therefore, that Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol form the conceptual core of the exhibition — both of these artists fashioned elaborate public personae, which, one can argue, were as much a part of their art as their actual art objects. They each inserted themselves into their work, at times complicating their self-presentations by appearing in drag. Duchamp posed for Man Ray as his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy in 1920 and Warhol produced Polaroids of himself dressed in various feminine guises in 1980-82.

The exhibition traces the practice of self-representation, both veiled and explicit, through the work of such contemporary artists as Matthew Barney, Robert Gober, Roni Horn, Jeff Koons, and Robert Mapplethorpe. Other artworks in the exhibition, including those by Damien Hirst, Lawrence Weiner, and Cerith Wyn Evans, muse upon the transitory nature of life.

Film plays an important role in Gordon’s practice. He has worked with existing film as a readymade, often replicating and even inverting projections. For The VANITY of Allegory, Gordon has created a cinema within the exhibition space, which has been programmed with a selection of films to further illuminate the project’s themes, including The Legend of Leigh Bowery (Charles Atlas, 2002), Apocalypse Now Redux (Francis Ford Coppola, 2001), Peter Pan (Walt Disney, 1953), The Picture of Dorian Gray (Albert Lewin, 1945), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Rouben Mamoulian, 1931).

Douglas Gordon
staying home and going out, 2005
© 2005 Douglas Gordon, Photo by David Heald

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