From Rembrandt to the selfie

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
26 March – 26 June 2016

The self-portrait is a genre in itself. A self-portrait conveys information, not just about the style of the epoch in which it was made, but also about the personality of the artist who made it, and his or her social and historical environment. In the digital age, a far-reaching analysis of the tradition of the self-portrait seems relevant and pressing, for the very reason that in recent years the global spread of smartphones has resulted in the emergence of a massive social phenomenon: the taking of selfies.

Antoine Duclaux, Lyonnaise Artists Stopping at Barbe Island, 1824 © Lyon MBA – Photo Alain Basset
Simon Vouet, Self-Portrait, around 1626, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon © Lyon MBA – Photo Alain Basset
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Artist (Self-Portrait), 1920 © bpk / Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe
Jean Carriès, The Warrior, 1881 © Lyon MBA – Photo Alain Basset

On show in the exhibition are more than 130 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and videos dating from between the Renaissance and the 21st century. The majority of works come from the rich collections of the three partner museums, but also included are loans from Lyon-based private collectors, the ZKM Karlsruhe, and the Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon. The exhibition questions the genre’s artistic practices, defines the typology of self-portraiture, and underscores its unique characteristics. It shows the diversity of artistic possibilities that the genre has to offer, ranging from self-portrait-as-performance, to the artist’s image ‘smuggled’ into works in another genre, to the mere allusion of self. The exhibition takes a special look at the production of self-portraits by German, Scottish, and Lyon-based artists.

The exhibition's chapters

The exhibition is divided into five chapters (The artist’s gaze – The artist at work – The artist and family – The artist staged – The body of the artist), which explore the typology of the self-portrait and its evolution over the centuries. Accompanying the exhibition is a catalogue in three languages (German, French, English).

The visitors and their self-portraits

In parallel to the exhibition, several activities have been developed that purposefully involve the audience in the project. Particularly noteworthy is the ZKM’s digital installation which encourages visitors to take their portraits before leaving the exhibition. Their snapshots are then selected through an automatic scanning process and assembled to form a huge portrait of exhibition-goers. This project also allows visitors to participate in the exhibition long after their visit, by getting involved online and via social Networks.

Me, myself and I

Designed specifically for school groups aged 11 and up, this guide is on offer during the exhibition’s entire run. It was developed in cooperation with the ZKM and includes a visit to the art-appreciation room, where works produced in workshops are on show. Please note: educators must give notice of their planned school-group visit in advance.

On 14 and 15 May 2016 workshops will be held at the Kunsthalle, conceived and led by artists from all three partner countries. The participants (ages 14 to 18) will be selected by teachers in response to a selfie competition launched on social networks. The works produced in these workshops will then go on display in the art-appreciation room.

On Friday afternoons and during the school holidays, a range of special workshops and tours is on offer, allowing younger visitors to experience the exhibition through playful activities.