Facing the World | Scottish National Portrait Gallery

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Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen St, Edinburgh
Exhibition running until October 16
Open daily 10am – 5pm, Thursday 10am – 7pm

‘Facing the World’, currently on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, exhibits a unique collection of self-portraiture from six centuries of artists. From Ai Weiwei to Rembrandt, the exhibition sets out to introduce us to some of the greatest artists to have ever lived.

Upon entering, we are confronted by several hugely different takes on the self-portrait format. A rolling projection of Ai Weiwei’s Instagram catches the eye first, followed by the likes of Munch, Wilkie and Mapplethorpe close by. The exhibition runs the risk of becoming cluttered and poorly focused with such a wide range of artists and mediums, but the curation is superb. The works hang together brilliantly, surprising again and again, with works from eminent artists such as Andy Warhol, resplendent in a series of wigs, and John Byrne’s lush depiction of himself in classic hippy garb.

There is certainly a link drawn between the classic idea of self-portraiture and its modern iteration in the form of selfies, with exhibition-goers offered the chance to upload their faces to a huge cloud-hosted network of images. The idea of artistic representation of the self as a purely classical pursuit and throwaway-narcissism as a modern vice is raised and inverted, with Weiwei’s offering being presented as sharp and journalistic, contrasted with Anselm Feurbach’s “self-portrait of a young man” seeming idealised and brash.

With such a wide and varied collection of artists on display it is no surprise that the exhibition as a whole is a delight. Expect to be surprised, challenged and even a little disturbed by some of the more inventive takes on the self-portrait. “Facing the World” is a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these great works displayed in such a fantastic context.

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