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Behind the Exhibit: Famous Portraits at Opera Gallery

The new show, “Portraits,” includes everyone from Picasso to David LaChapelle

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The myth of Narcissus, who gazed upon his mirrored image until he died, comes to mind at the new exhibit “Portraits,” a funhouse of paintings, busts and photography in the prehistoric tradition of reflecting the human form.

Organized by Opera Gallery New York, the exhibition whittles down the age-old artistic practice to 30 modern and contemporary masters. “We thought that the art of portraiture was a major driver in art history, stemming from portraits being in high demand before photography,” says Amos Frajnd, director at Opera Gallery. “We felt that in the selfie age, this idea still connects in modern and contemporary life.”

Indeed, while none constitute a “selfie” per se, the works appear to be chosen as much for the subject matter as for the big-name artistic mojo behind them. From Picasso to Murakami to Warhol, the artists behind “Portraits” seem to share not only an obsession with the human form but also much-mythologized personas of their own.

With the star-studded group exhibition, the Upper East Side outpost hopes to strike a balance between blue chip and accessibility – thereby asserting itself as a valuable player in the global Opera Gallery chain, which operates 12 locations from Dubai to Seoul. “It’s very important to put the New York team on the map,” says curator David Rosenberg. “I think this is one of the most ambitious exhibits by the gallery; it exhibits a very wide range.”

Elsewhere in mix: Bernard Buffet’s maudlin clown paintings, Keith Haring’s Sneeze, and a portrait of Spanish actress Rossy de Palma by Youssef Nabil. And while most of the art predates the seflie, some pays homage to another ego-driven artistic practice: painting mistresses. At least three – Picasso’s Tete de femme (1944) and Alex Katz’s Ulla (2009) and Tom Wesselmann’s Study for Bedroom Blonde with Necklace (1986) – immortalize the artists’ lovers.

“Portraits” starts on January 19 at Opera Gallery New York.