Home Arts Gender balance restored as Tracy Emin creates new ‘all women’ gateways for National Portrait Gallery

Gender balance restored as Tracy Emin creates new ‘all women’ gateways for National Portrait Gallery

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Visitors to the recently reopened National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London will be confronted with a very different type of portrait this week, as the doors of the institution have been transformed into 45 faces, each created by Tracey Emin.

The British artist, Turner Prize nominee and Royal Academician, was commissioned by the gallery to create The doors (2023). Emin produced 45 female faces, each drawn by hand in their characteristic gesture. The portraits were later cast in bronze and are now found within the grid of panels that cover the three new gates of the newly created NPG forecourt. The commission has been kept secret until the gallery’s announcement today.

With these new multi-panel bronze doors, Emin refers to a great historical tradition of art that encompasses both the Renaissance bronze doors of Lorenzo Ghiberti in Florence, Italy, and the monumental doors of Auguste Rodin. gates of hell.

The gallery, which opens to the public on June 22 after a three-year closure, commissioned Emin to “balance the imposing facade, with its roundels of eighteen men from British history”, Nicholas said. Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, in a statement shared with The arts journal.

Prior to the refurbishment, the gallery’s facade depicted exclusively prominent male figures in British and European history. Portland stone busts represent 18 male writers, historians and artists, including Horace Walpole, Hans Holbein the Younger, Anthony van Dyck and Sir Joshua Reynolds.

“Women in history are vastly underrepresented,” Tracey Emin said in a statement. “I didn’t want to represent specific or identifiable characters. I felt like the doors of the National Portrait Gallery should represent every woman, every age and every culture through time.

Creation of Tracey Emin The doors © Harry Weller, courtesy National Portrait Gallery

Throughout her career, Emin has challenged conventional notions of female beauty, identity and self-expression, the legacies of which have traditionally been on display at the NPG.

Emin was born in Croydon, south London, in 1963, and rose to prominence in the early 1990s amid the movement of young British artists. From the start, his artistic practice eschewed the polished and idealized depictions of traditional portraiture in favor of a more expressionistic form of portraiture. Emin primarily worked in self-portraiture, turning his own psyche and experiences into the subjects of his work.

Emin remains perhaps best known for her work from 1998 My bed, which was exhibited at the Tate in 1999 before being one of the shortlisted works for the Turner Prize that year. The installation is part of the heritage of “ready-made” art; Emin’s own bed, on public display after spending several weeks there, drinking, smoking, eating, sleeping and having sex amid a period of emotional turmoil.

Sketch of Tracey Emin for The Doors © National Portrait Gallery

By sharing its own vulnerabilities in this way, Emin’s work challenged the long-standing notion, often held in the NPG, that portraiture should be reserved for the elite or should focus on the physical likeness of the conventional beauty.

For the NPG commission, Emin used herself as “a mental model”, says the artist. “But the end result is many different women, some that exist in my mind and some that exist in reality perhaps here and now, as well as from the past,” she says. “It’s up to the viewer to discern what they feel and what they see or who they see.”

The portraits now seen on the door panels of the NPG were cast in bronze at an east London foundry that Emin often uses. Originally painted in acrylics on paper, Emin’s designs were later transcribed onto the bronze panels, although the artist’s fingerprints and thumbprints remain visible in the metalwork.

Exterior of The doors commission from the National Portrait Gallery © National Portrait Gallery

by Emin The doors commission is part of a larger effort on behalf of the NPG leadership to create a better gender balance in the NPG collection. When the gallery closed, more than 50 works were acquired and commissioned. These include the earliest large-scale portrait of an English woman, Lady Margaret Beaufort, from around 1510. More recent acquisitions include peitaw (2017), a self-portrait of Gambian-British artist Khadija Saye, who died following the fire at Grenfell Tower in London in June 2017.

Visitors to the new NPG will find that 36% of the portraits on display throughout the gallery are now women. This figure rises to 48% in post-1900 galleries.

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