The Image of the Artist, Albert Varga
Installation on and around the doorman’s booth at the Art Faculty
How are selfies connected to the genre of artists’ self-portraits in art history? In Matts Leiderstam’s commission for the biennial, a self-portrait by Albert Varga (1900–1940) in the collection of the Art Museum in Timișoara, is the starting point for a winding excavation. This investigation runs through art history books, online archives and oral stories told by researchers, taking the viewers from Budapest to Munich, Weimar, Dresden and Paris, via Timișoara. Attracted by this painting depicting Varga as a handsome and self-conscious young man, Leiderstam brings together the tradition of painting, regimes of viewing and new technology, displaying his findings as a collage on bulletin boards as well as on the outside of the doorman’s booth at the entrance of the Art Faculty, the precursor of which Varga co-founded in 1926. In addition, a workshop on self-portraiture with students is organized, and the participants show their contributions to the genre inside the booth and on a Facebook group.
Palpably methodical inquiries, resting on a conceptual basis, are common in the work of Leiderstam: for example, the multi-year projects Grand Tour and The Neanderthal Landscape. Both of them pertain to how ways of seeing changed from the 17th century until today in response to political upheavals, technological innovation and the development of knowledge. However, whereas the earlier projects are related to classical paintings and are assemblage-like, primarily emphasizing perception, not least the desire of the gaze, The Image of the Artist, Albert Varga is more invested in how images of the self proliferate and evolve on social media. In this way, his work often seeks out stories connected to the act of painting and how they will be pursued in a given space or context. For him, the moment of encountering a particular painting guides all of the permutations it might take within a space. Thus, most of his works can be described as growing out of a very simple question in relation to painting and image-making: What does a painting, or an image, do?