Selfportrait after Hugo Ball, Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich (1916), IV, 2016-2017
Valérie Favre’s series Make-up depicts the artist herself as characters from famous paintings or photographs. From Giorgio de Chirico’s Seer (1915, New York, The Museum of Modern Art) to Jean Cocteau asleep, photographed by Berenice Abbott (1927), the images she selects show figures in costume or accompanied by an alter-ego, such as de Chirico’s fortune-telling dummy and the mask of Antigone by Cocteau’s head. Her interest in self-staging is a nod to her former career as an actress before she turned to painting.
This self-portrait was based on an iconic photograph of Hugo Ball dressed as a ‘magical bishop’, reciting a phonetic poem at a Dadaist performance at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916. Favre had a photograph taken of herself in her studio wearing a cape and a cardboard hat inspired by the Cubist outfit worn by Ball, its colours already transformed into shades of grey in the original photograph. The stripes of her “dress” echo those of Ball’s hat. The lectern and other elements of the decor are missing.
This is one of a series of eight paintings on the same theme. The idea behind the variations on a theme is not to exhaust a range of possibilities but to get to grips with a subject and take the time to study it in depth. Here, she makes Ball’s portrait her own, turning it into the effigy of a painter: her right hand clasps brushes that seem to drip from her fingers, and her gaze is almost vulnerable, questioning her identity and her capacity as a painter.
This work reveals a range of influences, from Cindy Sherman’s explorations of cross-dressing and suppressing gender differences to Marcel Duchamp and the early-twentieth-century avant-gardes: the painting shares the same dimensions as Nu descendant un escalier n°2 (Nude Descending a Staircase no. 2, 1912, Philadelphia Museum of Art).
Peter Fischer, ‘Soi-même: acrobatie,’ in Antonia Nessi (ed.), Valérie Favre, exh. cat. Neuchâtel, Musée d’art et d’histoire, Zurich, Scheidegger & Spiess, 2017: 74.