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Gary Schneider: Portraits

February 28 - June 13, 2004


The first major exhibition to bring together a full range of photographer Gary Schneider's work will be presented this winter by the Harvard University Art Museums. Opening on February 28, 2004 at Harvard's Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gary Schneider: Portraits will span Schneider's career from the 1970s to the present and feature multipanel installations such as Meditations (1993) and John in Sixteen Parts (1996), both of which are drawn from the Harvard collections. Among other installations in the exhibition will be Carte de Visite (1990), After Mirriam (1994), Heinz (1995), and the epic Genetic Self-Portrait (1997-98), which will include three new works added to the original version. The majority of the installations will be on loan from the artist's collection and have rarely been presented to the public. (right: Gary Schneider (1954 - ). Vince, 2001. Chromogenic print, 60 x 48 inches. Frame dimension: 61 1/2 x 49 1/2 inches. Collection of the artist. © Gary Schneider. (Plate 23)

Recognized for his luminescent portraits that transform their subject matter, Schneider has also received significant attention for his innovative use of science to probe issues of identity. The exhibition will offer students and scholars an unprecedented opportunity to explore the concepts -- particularly American post-minimal conceptual art -- that have influenced Schneider's work and to observe how the artist has pushed the medium of photography to its limits.

Gary Schneider: Portraits is organized by Harvard's Fogg Art Museum and curated by Deborah Martin Kao, the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum. Following its presentation at Harvard, the exhibition will be presented at the Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, in the late summer and fall of 2004.

"Gary Schneider is considered one of the most thought-provoking photographers practicing today and we are pleased to present students, scholars, and the public with an opportunity to explore the evolution of his work," said Thomas Lentz, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums. "Like recent Harvard exhibitions of the work of Ben Shahn, Piet Mondrian, and Medardo Rosso, and the upcoming exhibition of paintings by Gregory and Frances Cohen Gillespie, Gary Schneider: Portraits is an expression of the Art Museums' commitment to advancing the study and interpretation of modern and contemporary art."

The Schneider exhibition will offer insight into how the artist's fascination with science, fetishistic regard for the found object, and passionate absorption with biography and autobiography are rooted in American post-minimal conceptual art of the 1970s. It will explore how Schneider's interest in portraiture grew out of an eagerness to create parameters for interaction between artist and subject. Schneider was more interested in constructing a space for this performance than in using photography as a means to create likenesses. Exhibition visitors will be able to see that many of Schneider's long-exposure portrait photographs, made by sculpting the face with a pen light for upwards of an hour, are the afterimage of an intensely personal interaction. (right: Gary Schneider (1954 - ). Hands, 1997, from Genetic Self-Portrait. Two gelatin silver prints, 36 x 29 inches each. © Gary Schneider. (plate 42)

Gary Schneider: Portraits will showcase the artist's diverse projects, which range from intimate representations of his own biological material to interpretations of anonymous 19th-century studio portraits. Carte de Visite (1990) is an installation of portraits of 19th-century women printed from found negatives and titled to reference the four-by-two-inch visiting-card portrait photographs that were widely exchanged and collected in Europe and America in the 1860s and 1870s. Hand photograms, featured in works such as Meditations (1993) and After Mirriam (1994), will provide students and scholars with an opportunity to explore how the artist formed works by using long exposures to capture his own biological specimens, in this case by pressing a sweating hand onto photographic film. Using the hand as a found object, Schneider heavily interpreted the negative in the darkroom and developed the unique resulting prints as surrogate portraits of lost loved ones. The monumental Genetic Self-Portrait represents the artist's innovative use of science to intimately explore the concept of self. Schneider collaborated with scientists to create images of blood, chromosomes, and hair follicles, among other biological elements, and the works in this installation range from photographs of Schneider's retinas and intestinal flora to imprints of his ears and lips.

"Gary Schneider's work allows us to explore so many themes resonating in photography today," said Kao. "Looking back to the 19th century and also reflecting modern and contemporary art history, Schneider illuminates the interdisciplinary issues of contemporary art and science, conceptual art and performance, portraiture and identity, and privacy within the public sphere."


Gary Schneider and Conceptual Art

Gary Schneider was born in 1954 in East London, South Africa. He became interested in art at an early age to find sanctuary from the oppressive environment of South Africa during the 1960s and 1970s. Portraiture and self-portraiture would become an essential way for Schneider to interact with a restrictive world. As a teenager he frequented galleries in Cape Town, where he became familiar with the work of artists such as Ben Nicholson, Paul Klee, and Giorgio Morandi. Schneider's interest in art was furthered by Artforum, which familiarized him with conceptual artists such as Vito Acconci, whose work had a great deal of influence on the young artist. Schneider's artistic development was also shaped by Robert Pincus-Witten's 1973 Artforum essay "Theater of the Conceptual," which examined how artists motivated by autobiographical experience were using their bodies as a medium to explore performance.


The Exhibition

Schneider's work will be presented roughly according to chronological periods:


Early Work & Film

The exhibition will feature black-and-white as well as color portraits, and a film Schneider created at the beginning of his career. Portrait of Ralph (1975), made of extreme close-ups with a 35-mm camera, will represent Schneider's early black-and-white fragmented portraits. The artist's multiple-exposure Polaroid SX 70s, his earliest color portrait work, will also be included. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, he made films as well as photographs; Salters Cottages (1981) is a film portrait of three voyeurs in a cottage community on Long Island.

This section of the exhibition will also feature Schneider's Carte de Visite (1990) installation, made from 19th-century negatives of studio portraits of women that the artist found at a flea market in New York City. Distinguished by their life size and unveiled quality, the portraits illustrate Schneider's attraction to found objects and how his work was informed by his experience printing photographs made by others.


Handprints and Long-Exposure Works

The second section of the exhibition will encompass the artist's handprints, long-exposure prints, and recent large color images of heads. One notable work in this section is John in Sixteen Parts (1996), which presents a portrait of "John" as sixteen fragments of features, including his eyes, mouth, nose, and ears. Installed as two stacked rows of eight prints each, the fragmented sections of John's face taken during long exposures do not fit together in a naturally coherent manner. Instead, these components are variously transformed and multiplied, as if they were pieces of a cerebral jigsaw puzzle gone awry. In his careful observation of distinct features from different vantage points, Schneider has applied his personal method of deconstructing the visual into the psychological, slowly creating a description of John without reconstructing John's appearance in a traditional manner.


Genetic Self-Portrait

The exhibition will conclude with Schneider's 55-panel installation Genetic Self-Portrait (1997-98). This epic work is an artistic response to the Human Genome Project, the initiative coordinated by the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health to identify every gene in human DNA and map its sequence across all 46 human chromosomes. Schneider collaborated intensively with a group of scientists at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York to create images of biological specimens taken from his body, using photo microscopy for most of the images.

Schneider approached the analytic pictures provided by the scientists as source material to be manipulated in the darkroom in his usual manner. In addition to his chromosomes, Genetic Self-Portrait includes greatly magnified representations of the artist's tumor suppressor gene; a buccal mucosa cell (from the inner lining of the cheek or lips) showing its nucleus and mitochondria; DNA sequences; chromosomes; sperm; and hair. To provide a counterpoint to the clinical samples, Schneider incorporated a pair of handprints and ear print photographs enlarged from sweat- and heat-imprinted negatives. Exploring issues of privacy and narcissism, the installation also reflects the artist's fascination with biology and forensic science.


Related Programs

The project will encompass a range of programming, from a major symposium to gallery talks by the artist. Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Gary Schneider: Portraits, the symposium "Aspects of Contemporary Photography" will be held on Saturday, March 13, 2004, at the Arthur M. Sackler Lecture Hall (485 Broadway, Cambridge). Admission is free. The symposium will focus on interdisciplinary approaches in contemporary photography, particularly issues raised by Schneider's work: conceptual art and performance, portraiture and identity, approaches to the archive and science, and privacy in public spaces. Participants include:


Gallery talks will also be given in conjunction with the project:



The exhibition will be accompanied by the first major study of Schneider's work. This fully illustrated catalogue of approximately 140 pages will be copublished by the Harvard University Art Museums and Yale University Press. It will feature an essay by Kao titled "The Obsession with Looking at Things Up Close" and edited excerpts from her extensive interviews with the artist.


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