Performing Identity: Place, Space, and the Body in portraiture

WED, June 8, 2016
6:30–8 pm

Floor Eight, Tuft Trustee Room and Floor Three, Seminar Room

Drawing on work included in the exhibition Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection, this two-part course offers new perspectives on the genre of portraiture. Looking at examples from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with particular emphasis on the 1980s to today, we will consider portraits as inherently political statements that intersect with issues of gender, race and sexuality, among other themes. How have artists used the portrait not merely as a means of picturing human subjects, but also as an active and mutable space for identity formation and performance? While discussions of portraiture tend to focus on the body, we will also be attentive to where these bodies are situated: in the city, in the artist’s studio, or in an altogether invented space. Relatedly, we will look at a series of portraits without bodies, considering the very definition of portraiture: what constitutes a portrait when the body disappears?

Instructor: Paula Burleigh is a Joan Tisch Teaching Fellow at the Whitney and a PhD candidate in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she is writing her dissertation about the use of archaic forms in a range of utopian projects in Western Europe during the 1960s. Paula has taught undergraduate courses in Art History and the History of Photography at CUNY Baruch College and adult education courses at MoMA. She currently teaches at Bard High School Early College.

Registration is required for this two-part course.

Option 1: June 8, 15
6:30–8 pm 

Option 2: June 9, 16
1–2:30 pm

This course includes visits to the exhibition. Evening sessions take place when the Museum is closed to the public. For inquiries related to the course, please email

The Museum building is accessible and has elevator access to all floors. Service animals are welcome. Learn more about access services and amenities.




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