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July 29 2014

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In Chelsea, Portraits Of The Artist And The Primate

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Anh Duong was in Chelsea last night, surrounded by a gallery full of Anh Duongs. The painter’s new show, at New York’s Sonnabend Gallery, was devoted exclusively to self-portraits. “I decided I’m going to paint myself because I’m always available and on time,” Duong deadpanned. “So it started as an excuse, basically, and then it became a sort of diary. I’ve been painting myself for the last 20 years.” The portraits, which have the slightly off-kilter fluidity of Alice Neel’s (and the liquid eyes of Margaret Keane’s), show the artist nude and clothed, outdoors and in, with cameo appearances by dogs and stuffed toys. They also offer Duong an ample opportunity to dress up for her sittings, spotlighting a killer collection of frocks, accessories, and jewels. “I think they are also great excuses to use a color or shape or to add something to the painting, to the composition,” she explained. “That’s why I’m interested in painting objects, the bag, the shoes, whatever. I think also the clothes have a personal significance. As I child I would always dress up; I felt like it was some sort of make-believe world, where if the clothes were perfectly put together, then I was safe. It was a response to a chaos around me…I felt like it was this ideal world, so it came naturally that I would use that in my portraits.” A fashion-heavy crowd, including Barry Diller, Carlos de Souza, Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa, and Phillip Lim, came by for a look. Lim, a friend of the artist, found an especially good reason to keep a sharp eye open. “I think one of our trenches is in here,” he said, before spinning off to have a look. But Duong herself said she preferred to see her paintings as expressions of emotion and technique, rather than portraits, per se. After all, she added, “I really think that every work of an artist is a self-portrait—I just push it further.”

At Paul Kasmin Gallery nearby, the new show by Walton Ford was testing that hypothesis. Ford is known for his large-scale watercolors inspired by the animal paintings of J.J. Audubon and others, but several of the enormous pieces in the new show had no history at all: wall-sized paintings of gorillas mid-scream, without the context of time or place. A portrait of the beast within? The gallery was as thronged with stampeding visitors—Daphne Guinness, Salman Rushdie, Padma Lakshmi, and Olivia Wilde among them—but the artist himself was the picture of civility in a sharply tailored three-piece suit.

Photo: Patrick McMullan/ PatrickMcMullan.com

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Dept. of Culture