Arts and Entertainment

ÜberPortrait at Bellevue Arts Museum offers new perspective on portraiture

Ah Xian
Ah Xian's Human Human cloisonné Bust 8 – Ten Thousand Flower. Hand-beaten copper, finely enameled in the cloisonné technique with “Bird and Flower” design. Made in Da Chang County. He Bei Province. China.
— image credit: Ah Xian photo

Bellevue Arts Museum offers a fresh perspective on contemporary portraiture with its new exhibition ÜberPortrait, on view June 16 through Oct. 18. Comprised of over 30 works by 11 locally, nationally and internationally celebrated artists, the exhibit examines the ‘portrait’ in all its facets – from individual likeness to overarching cultural identity.

Working in a broad range of media such as sculpture, ceramics, photography, fiber, performance art and film, artists highlighted in ÜberPortrait share a common interest: exploring the age-old fascination with capturing a person’s likeness and/or recreating his or her identity, both as individual and a collective entity.

Ah Xian’s pierced and carved porcelain busts decorated with traditional polychrome Chinese designs are born out of a sense of longing for his former motherland, China.

Kukuli Velarde’s terracotta self-portraits, evocative of Pre-Colombian figurines and vessels of her native Peru, raise racial, social and cultural issues informing contemporary post-colonial societies, or as she puts it “the violent encounter between the European and the indigenous world.”

Kate Clark’s beasts with human faces are hybrid creatures that both attract and repulse; Clark sees them as echoing the insecurities of our human condition, wavering between instinct and rationality.

Mixed-media artist Nick Cave focuses on the connotations of materials as means to constructing narratives with his wearable sculptures. Completely concealing the wearer’s identity, the artist allows the work to transcend preconceived notions of class, race and sexuality, all elements traditionally addressed by – and intrinsic to – portraiture.

As the name suggests, the artists in ÜberPortrait go beyond the traditional boundaries and limitations of a singular portrait or representation to capture a broader sense of cultural belonging – or even cultural longing.

“The key to this exhibition lies in the craft media and techniques used by the artists,” says Curator Stefano Catalani. “Fraught with cultural, historical, racial, political and social associations, the artists blend, blur, if not erase, the representation of an individual through the depiction or construction of an overarching cultural reality."

Artists include: Nick Cave (IL), Kate Clark (NY), Sonya Clark (VA), John Grade (WA), Margot Quan Knight (WA), Ledelle Moe (MD), Darrel Morris (IL), Brian O’Doerty (A.K.A. Patrick Ireland; NY), Kukuli Velarde (PA), Dan Webb (WA) and Ah Xian (Australia).

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