Portraits without a Face


In 1991, the Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres exhibited Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), a 175 pound-pile of wrapped candy that viewers could pick from and eat. While the interactive sculpture did not render a person’s face or body, it has been interpreted as a portrait representing the ideal weight of the artist’s partner who died of complications from AIDS that same year. Gonzalez-Torres, among many others, have expanded the definition of portraiture to include artworks that capture the essence of individuals, without rendering their physical likenesses. For example, in Portrait of a German Officer (1914), American Modernist Marsden Hartley depicted the fallen soldier Karl von Freyburg exclusively through abstract symbols, such as the lieutenant’s initials, age of death, and military awards. Feminist artist Judy Chicago designed unique place settings to represent thirty-nine historic women in her seminal work The Dinner Party (1974-79); and photographer Coke Wisdom O'Neal documented the medicine cabinets of friends and strangers, presenting these private spaces as individual portraits in and of themselves.

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