This exhibition presents a selection of portraits in a variety of media dating from the early sixteenth century to the present day. The works of art are drawn from two major collections housed at the Hammer Museum: the UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts and the Hammer Contemporary Collection. The Grunwald Center collection comprises an extensive collection of works on paper, primarily European, American, and Japanese prints, drawings, and photographs dating from the Renaissance to the present. The Hammer Contemporary Collection is the newest collecting initiative at the Museum and comprises works in various media by artists working in Southern California as well as the United States and internationally, focused in particular on the last ten years. Ongoing series of exhibitions from these two collections, particularly rich in works on paper, present opportunities for discourse and a context for discussion about both history and the art of our time.
The works presented here show the endurance of the portrait genre, from early Renaissance engravings of kings and scholars to contemporary photographs of artists and workers. The first section of the exhibition includes portraits from a variety of periods and cultures, all characterized by a directness and emphasis on the individual. Busts or half-length figures dominate, showing how this convention has remained of interest to artists of diverse backgrounds and cultures. This section includes a number of self-portraits, from the raw textured woodcuts of Conrad Felixmüller to large color photographs by Catherine Opie and Jack Pierson. The second section of the exhibition presents a contrast between the introspective portrait—represented by the evocative works of historical artists such as Eugène Carrière and Gustav Klimt—to direct and unflinching contemporary portrayals by Matthew Monahan and Jenny Saville. The final gallery presents a selection of works focusing on the sitters' social position, from Renaissance scholar Erasmus, surrounded by his books and other typical scholarly attributes, to contemporary portraits of day workers by John Sonsini.