Proposition for a Posthumous Portrait

Douglas Gordon (born 1966)
Skull, mirror, and certificate of authenticity, 2004

Private collection, courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery, New York City

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Douglas Gordon draws on a variety of sources for his Proposition for a Posthumous Portrait. On one level, the work is a portrait of Marcel Duchamp. The star at the back of the skull recalls photographs of Duchamp from 1921, picturing him with a star-shaped tonsure, as well as the multiple photograph of Duchamp from 1917, in which he is posed next to a hinged mirror that creates the illusion of five Duchamps.

The position of the skull at the intersection of the mirrors also recalls Irving Penn’s 1948 portrait of Duchamp leaning on two walls. Gordon’s wide-ranging visual vocabulary, along with the multiple reflections and the ambiguity of the title, ultimately suggest that the work is a conflation of visual sources and personas, and even a statement on the complexity of identity itself.

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Listen to co-curator Anne Goodyear discuss this image: