Jenny Dubnau’s series of portraits for her exhibition at The Aldrich includes artists Shimon Attie, James Esber, Thilo Hoffmann, herself, and some Museum staff members. All the artists represented are currently exhibiting at the Museum during this semester in which the work on view relates to the theme of Portraiture.
Dubnau’s straightforward paintings are typical and traditional portraits as we know them. However, they can also function as anti-portraits, because instead of choosing the most complimentary pose and facial expression—one that would glorify the sitter in perpetuity, as in traditional portraiture—Dubnau captures the fleeting moment of an involuntary expression. In addition, she finds physical imperfections, such as signs of aging, to be compelling instances of vulnerability, and focuses on them in detail. Not surprisingly, she keeps a reminder, in the form of a piece of paper tacked to her studio wall, of the “good things about realism”: “Toughness, lack of sentimentality and courage of facing reality: POLITICAL.” To this, Dubnau adds: “I think realism is political by nature because it does not idealize or obscure the truth: it’s harder to avoid the political nature of things if their edges are not being ‘softened.’”
Dubnau’s work is also political in the sense that realist painting in today’s contemporary art world is often considered a style which has lost its relevance. Nonetheless, in her mind resorting to an unapologetically unsentimental and descriptive language is relevant to our time. “You are capturing something about the way people really look … I can see a lot of anxiety in their faces and it may be my own projection, but I am constantly thinking about global warming, the war in Iraq, the wrecked economy. I like to think that anxieties such as these are reflected in the faces of my subjects.”
Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, Curator.