Janet Wang: Archetypical Exhibition at the Seymour Art Gallery


In Archetypical, Janet Wang examines the use of portraiture and its place in our digitized world through intimate and detailed egg tempera paintings layered on marble, glass, and even mirrors. . The materials, construction, and presentation of the paintings are as important as the message of the work; they force the viewer to pause and consider the nature and construction of identity. By contextualizing contemporary portraiture through historical and literary allegories – archetypes such as the hero, trickster, and fool – this exhibition explores the politics of self and identity.

As the artist explains, “we advertise a notion of our self via selected snapshots and 140 character pithy updates; we answer rote questions of age, gender, and relationships on social media; we buy into virtual identities rather than actual ones.” Archetypical asks us to challenge our construction of ‘self’ in order to defy the superfluous categorization we subject ourselves to daily.

Wang problematizes not only modern modes of classification, but more ancient roles as well. She explains; “whether I seem to fall into the role of Martyr, Trickster, Fool, or Artist, I am challenging these patterns of behavior through adaptation of their physical manifestation.”

Although the painted portrait is equally unreliable, unstable, and constructed, Wang confronts the viewer with her work’s physicality and structure. She points out this instability through illusion, creating whimsical moments within the artwork, and showing the viewer how the work was assembled. Her “modern mythological figures” change as the viewer moves, showing us that neither they, nor our own identities, are fixed.