Passport to the Self: Photographs from the Irmas Collection at LACMA and Paris Photo

Like many of you, I’ve been defining/refining myself in terms that are somewhat forced, coming via our politicians and pollsters of late. So really, who am I beyond my voting record, my birth certificate, my passport? (And can I have another shot at that passport photo please? It’s not at all representative.) Knowing we’re all products of our socio-political times, and in light of the recent election saga, I’ve been reconsidering our dual exhibitions on the theme of self-portraiture.

Yes, in a split-personality moment, the museum has two exhibits on this topic on view simultaneously: Imagining the Modern Self: Photographs from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection at LACMA and Face to Face: The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection at LACMA in Paris at the esteemed art fair, Paris Photo.

Both exhibitions present specific aspects of the internal gaze, a practice that continues to be relevant to contemporary artists. Imagining the Modern Self at LACMA focuses on the highly experimental time period between the two World Wars, with work like this photo montage by the French artist Claude Cahun:

Claude Cahun, I.O.U. (Self-Pride), 1929–30, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection

That same collage instinct is alive in 1967 in this Wallace Berman work—on view in Face to Face in Paris:

Wallace Berman, Self-Portrait, 1967, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection

And back in L.A., the filmic presentation of German artist Renata Bracksieck from the 1920s:

Renata Bracksiek, Untitled, 1920s, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection.

Of which a similar impulse can be seen forty years later in this Andy Warhol photo booth portrait on view in Paris:

Andy Warhol, Untitled, 1964, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection.

And this rare 1938 image of recently celebrated (and sadly, recently passed) Pedro Guerrero—soon you will recognize his name alongside master architectural photographer Julius Shulman—seen at LACMA. Guerrero’s abstracted yet direct and compelling image leads me to our display at Paris Photo, which is grounded by a selection of modern photo masters, forceful gazes all, among them Man Ray, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Diane Arbus.

Pedro Guerrero, Self-Portrait, 1938, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection.

Layered in are artists who have worked in Southern California (or were based here for a time)—such as Wallace Berman, Ilene Segalove, Lisa Anne Auerbach, Martin Kersels, and Catherine Opie— who put into perspective our SoCal achievements and the global impact of our photographic production. Ideally, I’d like to imagine the artists in our L.A. show crossing borders of time and place, having an interesting conversation (covering politics and art!) with the Paris gang. If only they could get their calendars to synch, they would find common ground with their use of distortion, mirroring, and the abstraction or obfuscation of the self.

With the Paris Photo exhibit due to run fleetingly, November 15-18,  and the LACMA exhibit on view until January 21, this coming weekend will be the apex of their conjoined display. For those of you who can, we hope you can make both shows. Join us in celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Irmas family donation of this remarkably enduring collection.

Eve Schillo, Curatorial Assistant, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department 

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