Gillian Wearing:
Wearing Masks

Guggenheim Museum, NYC

Profoundly empathetic and psychologically intense, Gillian Wearing’s photographs, videos, sculptures, and paintings probe the tensions between self and society in an increasingly media-saturated world. Gillian Wearing: Wearing Masks is the first retrospective of Wearing’s work in North America. Featuring more than 100 pieces, the exhibition traces the artist’s development from her earliest Polaroids to her latest self-portraits, all of which explore the performative nature of identity.

Wearing’s work often involves her asking a diverse group of volunteers to represent their authentic selves, a process that highlights distinctions between public and private identities, and spontaneous versus rehearsed behavior. For her landmark piece Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say (1992–93), Wearing photographed strangers holding placards with messages they wrote themselves. In so doing, she changed the terms of documentary street photography and performance art by giving voice to the subjects of her art. Wearing also repeatedly turns the camera on herself to examine how one’s sense of self is established within familial, social, and historical contexts, especially in the aftermath of traumatic experience. Throughout her works, masks serve as both literal props and metaphors for the performances each of us stage every day as individuals and as citizens.

Gillian Wearing: Wearing Masks is organized by Jennifer Blessing, Senior Curator, Photography, and Nat Trotman, Curator, Performance and Media, with X Zhu-Nowell, Assistant Curator, and Ksenia Soboleva, Jan and Marica Vilcek Curatorial Fellow. The show is accompanied by a comprehensive monograph that will survey the artist’s three-decade career with a particular focus on her work of the last decade, including a recent series made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibition will also coincide with a new sculptural tribute to photographer Diane Arbus by Wearing, opening in October 2021 at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Central Park, organized by Public Art Fund.