The Art Historian According to Artists
The exhibition of Linda Nochlin’s portraits shows the preeminent art historian as perceived by the artists who have been her contemporaries spanning more than five decades. The portraits assembled do not adhere to biographical history unfolded in the realm of indexical representation—their disparateness witness to the variety of ways Nochlin has approached the image and the self both. The exhibition offers a unique glimpse into another way of constructing an intellectual art historian’s biography—especially interesting as a curatorial endeavor—via images of her likeness. It contains works of different styles in variety of media that offer a multifaceted story of dynamic exchanges between the subject and the author. The exhibition thematizes the notions of authorship and exchange, putting the relational aspect in the forefront, and providing an engaging viewing experience for the visitors that goes beyond the biographical illustration. The dichotomy of the subject’s intellectual and private identity is dismantled by the artists themselves as Nochlin’s great passion for realism seems to inspire and imbue the works repeatedly. Her persistent act of observing and thinking through images thus became the subject forming in the depiction of the flesh—a performance of becoming in the realm of visual, releasing authorial, historian’s control along with the authority of likeness. The sites of exchange occur in the context of her intellectually vigorous activities as they motivated the artists to engage with her subject—she has been writing insightfully about the act of sitting, but here, the visitors get a sense of how it is to be let to be viewed.
Kathleen Gilje’s painting Linda Nochlin and Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère encapsulates this ambiguity, allowing her subject to have her cake and eat it too by positioning her as the one who observes the spectacle and not being possessed by it. The critical space of an intellectual the historian could only dream of: hence this mischievous look on Nochlin’s face instead of a barmaid’s at the Folies-Bergère. The monumental Deborah Kass’s 1997 Orange Disaster (Linda Nochlin) depicts Nochlin situated within the formal setting of the Warhol’s Disaster Series context of violent deaths—suicides, car crashes, assassinations, and executions. The painting belongs to The Warhol Project (started in 1992), in which Kass subverted Warhol’s ambivalent relationship to popular culture by choosing subjects that had an explicitly personal and political relationship to her own cultural interests. The treatment of the subject paradoxically escapes pop-idolization by the use of the title that echoes a different register of meaning: Orange Disaster. The appropriated conflation of the two disparate pop sources—situated in the title and the formal structure, combined with iconic treatment of the portrait—allows the neutralization of the ambivalence. It leaves the space for a new icon to be proudly represented—a depiction of a true heroine, devoid of both traditional pathos and ambiguous pop apotheosis.
Philip Pearlstein’s 1968 Portrait of Linda Nochlin and Richard Pommer has been described by Nochlin as the painting that ties together the personal and intellectual strands of her life like no other work of art. She then, in her 1993 Artforum article, has engaged in the bravura analysis of the subject treatment offering an insight into her superb art historical talent by treating the topic of realistic painting and merging it with the unrelenting self-examination. Pearlstein’s 2010 portrait of Nochlin, depicting her alone forty years after the first double portrait, speaks volumes about the passing of time and the subject’s intense making of the self within the articulated historical context.
Barbara Zucker’s wall design titled After Linda Nochlin (2006 – 7) traces the feminist doyenne’s facial lines, defiantly treating them as the ultimate decoration. Their allover presence provides a reminder of femininity under scrutiny and the resolute feminist stance regarding aging in contemporary youth obsessed culture. Using this as a background, the portrait of Nochlin as a mother by Alice Neel, Linda Nochlin and Daisy (1972), puts at the fore her being a mother and woman. It is a paradigmatic depiction of second-wave feminist grappling with the double identity of the female intellectual as both a mother and a thinker, this tension reflecting Neel’s own struggle of being a mother and a painter. The exhibition includes a series of four photographs by Rainer Ganahl titled Seminar/Lecture, Linda Nochlin, Glory and Misery of Pornography, colloquium “fémininmasculin”, Les Revues Parlées, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2/2/96 that capture Nochlin in her professional environment—a lecture hall. His photos do not focus only on her as a figure at the lectern but also the audience potently speaking about the inter-subjective nature of the exchange of knowledge as constitutive of her life’s endeavor.
JOVANA STOKIC is Deputy Chair of the Masters Program in Curatorial Practice at the School of Visual Arts in New York.