Art review: Beyond Likeness

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Artwork from Beyond Likeness exhibition at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery

Review by Erin Coates

Exhibition: Beyond Likeness: contemporary portraits
Curator: Ted Snell
Duration: 26 May - 28 July 2012

Image: Shaun Gladwell, I Also Live at One Infinite Loop, 2011, video (still), image courtesy of the Artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Copyright courtesy of the artist.


Beyond Likeness: contemporary portraits

An ambitious and multifaceted exploration of portraiture Beyond Likeness: contemporary portraits includes works created from mid-century to today and spans almost every imaginable medium; from text to holographic printing, wood carving to painting.

Curator and gallery director Ted Snell brings an erudite and reflexive approach to his selection of artworks, probing the nature of contemporary portrait-making and the manifold strategies artists deploy to reach ‘beyond likeness’ in revealing something of their subject.

One of the galleries the exhibition occupies is dedicated entirely to moving image. While it suffers somewhat from the limitations of the space, this room provides many highlights; Andy Warhol’s hypnotic and deceptively simple Screen tests 1 ; Daniel Crooks’ liquid time-space mapping of an elderly Tai-Chi practitioner in a Shanghai park; Robert Wilson’s beautifully-shot, quirky video portrait BRAD PITT showing the actor in his underwear in the rain, bathed in blue studio light and intoned by a disconcerting lullaby poem.

A work that would certainly have benefited from a more dedicated screen space was Shaun Gladwell’s aircraft video projection. Holding one camera in front of another and filming from a L39 fighter jet, I also live at one infinite loop is set against a backdrop of giddying and horizon-warping aerobatics.

The artist’s face is completely obscured by his helmet’s reflective visor and breathing apparatus and our gaze is drawn into a continual cycle of video feedback as the LCDs of both cameras mirror one another. While the artist’s appearance remains completely concealed the jerky movements he makes as he tries to steady the camera give us a very real sense of the extreme and thrilling velocity he is experiencing.

Portraiture here takes on the first-person player perspective used so insidiously and effectively in gaming, and echoes also the corporeal subsumption into military technology via the screen.

In the same room is David Rosetzky’s intriguing and superbly realised (heart) forever. The inclusion of this video in the exhibition is fascinating in that it problematizes the very notion of portraiture and essentially negates any authentic subject, presenting us instead with characters compiled from ideals of lifestyle culture.

In the video an attractive young couple wake and embark on an idyllic day-trip to the Yarra Valley. During the course of their outing the couple are replaced by sets of different actors, carrying out the roles in seamless continuum. Like much of Rosetzky’s work, (heart) forever draws heavily on the artifice and visual style of high-end advertising, and is even playfully self-referential in the on-screen presence of studio lights and light gels that the characters adjust.

As the integrity of a singular and unified subject is dismantled it is interesting that as viewers our capacity to suspend our disbelief allows us to still read the characters within the continuity of the narrative – revealing the unerring human drive to define and meaningfully ‘read’ other humans and the ways that advertising is able to tap into and manipulate this. 

The false intimacy in Rosetzky’s images and sensation that there is nothing beneath surface appearance is cleverly countered by other works in the exhibition. Literally inscribing his own memories into photographic images, William Yang uses photos from his childhood in rural Queensland and early twenties in Sydney.

His confessional texts are written over and around the forms in the photos, changing the reading of these portraits and embedding them with poignant personal narratives; Yang’s childhood experiences of racial prejudice; coming to terms with his sexuality as a young adult; reflecting upon his life and connection to family as an older man.

Text on images is often poorly done but these works have a gentle and effecting presence and add to the larger conversation of how artists are constantly evolving the nature of portraiture and seeking diverse methods to articulate the human condition.

There is a lot of work to get through in the second gallery space and the layout does feel a little overcrowded – the use of individual gated lighting tries to overcome this however its intense illuminating effect does not suit all of the pieces. Ultimately though this is an enjoyable and generous exhibition that provides many insights into the paths that contemporary portraiture is taking.


  1. Coincidentally Warhol’s Screen tests are also being show at the Art Gallery of Western Australia as a part of a major exhibition of work from MOMA, Picasso to Warhol: Fourteen Modern Masters. Warhol produced over 500 silent film portraits and different works from the series are being shown at both venues.