What the Images of the Self Reveal. Gender and Role Play in Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections and in Early Performance-based Art


  • Tancredi Gusman




Between April and September 2014, the artist Amalia Ulman posted on her Instagram account a series of pictures and selfies seemingly documenting her everyday life. This series of pictures, however, as she later revealed, did not depict her ‘real’ life but constituted an art piece in three parts called Excellences & Perfections. By unmasking Instagram as a space to produce a pseudo-authenticity, Ulman wanted to show how this construction applies specifically to female representation, thus exposing ‘femininity’ as something constructed and not inherent to any woman. Comparing Ulman’s piece with earlier works of Adrian Piper, Martha Wilson and Cindy Sherman, revolving around identity and gender representation, this article addresses the multiple layers that characterize it while showing its ambiguity. In particular, and considering the additional information provided by Ulman after the end of the Instagram performance as an integral part of it, this contribution examines the distinct ways in which Ulman frames the work, giving rise to opposing narratives and critical strategies.