35 Year Portrait

Copied Robert Arneson, 35 Year Portrait, 1986, glazed ceramic, 76 1425 5827 14 in. (193.765.169.2 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Edith S. and Arthur J. Levin, 2005.5.2

Artwork Details

35 Year Portrait
76 1425 5827 14 in. (193.765.169.2 cm)
Credit Line
Bequest of Edith S. and Arthur J. Levin
Mediums Description
glazed ceramic
  • Portrait male — Arneson, Robert — self-portrait
  • Portrait male — Arneson, Robert — head
  • Object — written matter
  • Portrait male — Arneson, Robert — full length
  • Portrait male — Arneson, Robert — nude
Object Number

Artwork Description

Arneson said that he created his self-portraits because "I can poke fun at myself, I know myself better than anyone else, and I'm free." This two-faced portrait head mounted on a column satirizes the sculptures marking the graves of Greek and Roman heroes, and offers Arneson's darkly comic assessment of his own fate. He undercuts an image of classical beauty on one side of the column with a frank depiction of his middle-aged body and shaggy face on the other. He flippantly warns us that everyone ages and dies. On the column, three tic-tac-toe grids suggest the end of the game, and a jagged opening marked "Virgo Springs" resembles a wound or a blackened tumor, evoking the ravages of cancer that eventually killed the artist.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Luce Center Label
Robert Arneson’s two-faced self-portrait is a play on the traditional portrait bust as well as sculptures marking the graves of Greek and Roman heroes and the double-headed Roman deity, Janus. Throughout 35 Year Portrait, Arneson juxtaposed images of his wrinkled, older self with ones of classical beauty, flippantly reminding the viewer that everyone ages and dies. Rather than create an idealized image, the artist offered a realistic self-portrait and a frank evaluation of his own fate. Arneson employed his characteristic wit to tackle this difficult subject matter. He incised the word "huh?" and stamped "CHUG CHUGGIN ALONG" on the pedestal, both of which emphasize Arneson’s tendency toward satirical self-reflection in his self-portraits.