Denis Darzacq, Série La chute, 2005-2006 / Courtesy Galerie VU, Paris
This exhibition is a failure, first as a supposed attempt to present Portraiture in its
contemporary diversity. Indeed, many artists are tempted to reappropriate this “genre” and
approach it from a wide range of visual styles: archiving, serial compilation undertaken as
documentary-style observation (Fréger, Bazin) or a photographic approach that could be
described as “objective” (Graham, Streuli, Knorr) but it can also translate into the
reconstruction of images or mises en scènes aiming to reproduce archetype (s) by evocation
(Fullerton-Batten, Knorr, Bourouissa, Sank, Darzacq, Lafontaine).
And finally, after extensive research and accumulation of works based on this practice that
could be seen as formalized, even formatted on one hand and “neo…” or out of date on the
other, we realize the extensive variety of contemporary possibilities and the impossibility of
visual uniformity that we could have initially expected. This project has thus become a
presentation of diverse practices, photographic as well as film, because it has become
necessary to expand the subject to include moving image: recording a slice of life (Streuli,
Darzacq, Mul) or cinematographic (Boon).
This exhibition no longer seeks to present a formalized genre but rather to demonstrate its fragmentation.
We could quickly go over the importance of this very old genre whose contemporary reactivation
can be seen in terms of historical continuity, first that of a pictorial tradition – court
portraits which gave rise to the 19th century taste for bourgeois portraits – followed later by
the appearance of the medium of photography for popular and social portraits of families or
groups – such as class or cooperative photos. Finally, in its modern phase, the “Sandersstyle”
serial portrait appears, in which the individual becomes the representative of a social
group. This is still of major importance in the renewal of contemporary practice.
For the sake of coherence in the exhibition, we decided to focus on a generational
phenomenon: portraits of teenagers from different socio-economic groups reflecting the past
twenty years. This is a preoccupation shared by many artists. Some of the most
representative undertakings are presented here.
Yet here again, we will perceive certain impossibilities including the major difficulty of
freezing faces mid-development. And while all the artists approach the intimate fragility of
adolescence in their own way, none could possibly establish a generic portrait.
De facto, a teenage face eludes. Its physical incompleteness dooms to failure the identity
portrait and immediately brings us back to the uncertain evolution of the individual. By
definition, it can only be a temporary portrait.
These portraits are even more transitory because they escape any real class categorization.
Visual accumulation reveals that teenagers’ often-mimetic attitude does not come so much
from a real group as from the desire to become, the idea of a future whose framework
ultimately remains vague.
As a result, the subject is a delicate or even thorny one because it crosses all social classes
and sparks identity issues that combine context and emerging personality born as much of a
whimsical desire to identify with something as of a reinterpreted, caricatured reality to create
a sense of belonging.
These generational groups ultimately hold together more by an imagined link than by the
weft of real social fabric and their often hard-line yet blurry-edged attitudes echo the identity
crisis of adult society. A sort of stacking up of desires in which the individual sees himself in
the fragility of each face but in which the archetype of the group only functions by attribute.
Thanks to: Galerie Anne Barrault, Paris, France / Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London, UK / Ron
Mandos Gallery, Rotterdam-Amsterdam, The Nederlands / Galerie Erna Hecey, Brussels, Belgium /
Pôle Image Haute-Normandie, Rouen, France / Galerie VU, Paris, France