Portraits: the last headline
Curated by: Ricardo Sardenberg
We are not witnessing the extinction of species, but the extinction of the human species. The extinction of history, of pleasure, of love and of time. The end of everything that we are inside: human beings are undergoing a process of internal extinction, even prior to their extinction in the world. Because of this, this process is unstoppable. Starting now, we should pay tribute to an age when it was believed the world could be better. It won’t be.
Portraiture nowadays is a mausoleum of itself. A museum of dead and bygone things. Prior to our extinction, it seems that everyone is waiting for the last portrait, the last pose, the last gaze. Our transitory nature becomes evident as we encounter a portrait. The figure of the portrayed subject who conveys whom he believes he is through his glance, pose and clothing no longer exists. The figure of the portrait artist, often considered as someone who puts all of himself into his work, has also changed over time into someone who only seeks the momentary pleasure of recording humanity that has simply been overtaken by an obsession to consume. Nowadays, when we observe a portrait, we realize that it may be only awakening nostalgia for a time when people actually believed in the existence of a culture. Culture, in the sense of permanence of experiences in society. Today, we know that people leave now. In the past, we would keep images to remind us of people; nowadays, however, a portrait can reveal a self-affirmation that confirms our empty existence, like a body extinct from the inside.
Portraits: The Last Headline is not a millennium exhibition in search of the apocalypse. Instead, it is a tribute in the form of an installation of the institution of portraiture, which increasingly has taken on a sense of a fleeting present. The installation consists of the display of approximately 50 works by more than 40 artists from the 19th century – the height of portraiture as a projection of power (in this case, the projection of Emperor Dom Pedro II’s regime) – up to today, when portraits have become ironic and ephemeral. In this process of the passing of time, we only perceive a trace of the images of yesteryear, of the tradition of photo albums, and a certain projection of nostalgia for something that future generations will no longer recognize. Portraiture is like a repository of people’s memory and of special moments in the flow of life.
Perhaps we are enthroning conceptual abstraction, proving the victory of concepts instead of feelings. It is a deromantized world where even those whom we love are transformed into representations of the present, that is, an absence of past images that need to be remembered. The digital archives of images of the people dearest to us are soon transformed into huge archives comprised of thousands of similar photos. These archives resemble the deposit of police photos from the prisons of a dictatorship or of missing people during a war. We have a vague memory of when these photos were taken but, at the same time, there are dozens of images of almost identical poses: small variations in the person’s gaze or a blur in the image from the haste in portraying an instant that will soon be forgotten in the archives of an external hard drive. The external hard drive, and the “cloud” is perhaps the ultimate expression of this, is a monument to oblivion. And I hope that this exhibition will do justice to what is forgotten inside that digital box, or at least render it visible. In this sense, the portrait is no longer a memento.