The Face A Search for Clues

19. Aug 2017 - 25. Feb 2018

Dot, Dot, comma, Dash - and nothing else?

We see faces every day, often in personal, face-to-face encounters. But it’s much more than that: They constantly look back at us as portraits of prominent personalities in glossy magazines or on our computer screens, as selfies on the Internet, from posters and from paintings. Innumerable cameras and databases save images of faces. How does this ubiquitous media presence alter our relationship to the face itself? What influence does it have on our self-image and our communication? The exhibition seeks to explore such questions.

Most encounters with others begin by looking at their faces, and what we see there helps to form our first impressions. We frequently judge people by their faces or associate them with a social group. But how can we be so sure that someone is friendly or arrogant? And, what do others read into our  faces?

Nothing can be done about one’s face ‒ or so it’s said. It’s a part of the body that nature has given us. Still, we don’t just leave it at that. Every day we attend to our faces in front of a mirror with makeup, tweezers and razors. What conceptions about ourselves are we pursuing? Which societal norms and fashions? And do our faces first become complete when we expose them to the views of others?


Christoph Amberger, Marta dell’Angelo, Kader Attia, Brassaï, Thorsten Brinkmann, Broomberg & Chanarin, Claude Cahun, Chuck Close, Kate Cooper, Sterling Crispin, Hilde Doepp und Charlotte Rudolph, Moritz Fehr, Em Ford, Marc Garanger, Bruce Gilden, Asta Gröting, F.C. Gundlach, Gottfried Helnwein, Rudolf Herz, Peter Hujar, Kathi Kant, Peter Keetman, Jens Klein, Jan Kříženecký, Martin Langhorst, Robert Lebeck, Helmar Lerski, Jasper van Loenen, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Robert Longo, George Maciunas, Ana Mendieta, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Paul Mobley, Zanele Muholi, Martin Munkácsi, Marcel Odenbach, Zaher Omareen und Ibrahim Fakhri, Joanna Rajkowska, Nous Sommes Bobby Watson, Leonardo Selvaggio, Cindy Sherman, Shinseungback Kimyonghun, Taryn Simon, Studio Braun, Ivonne Thein, Moritz Wehrmann and Andy Warhol

Exhibition chapters


The infinite variety of faces is based on naturally occurring differences as well as changes caused by aging. This diversity is also the result of cosmetic modifications to the face, through which we often express and define ourselves. How we look is therefore shaped by our physical appearance as well as by cultural standards and changing ideals of beauty.


Facial expressions help us to interact with others. People are able to intuitively and spontaneously read facial expressions. And yet we don’t always understand what is being conveyed, which results in misunderstandings and our being puzzled by some reactions. Computer programs are now supposed to help decipher the emotional range and subtlety of our facial expressions. But is this software able to deliver on its promise? And do we really want it to?


Just a few marks are enough for us to recognize eyes, nose and a mouth – in the clouds, for instance, or on the side of a building. Current software techniques function in reverse, dissolving faces into data patterns in order to be able to identify and utilize them. Digital facial recognition may soon be monitoring us at many locations, such as train stations and department stores, but also in other public places.


For centuries people have chosen to immortalize themselves in portraits. They have created and continue to create an image of themselves as well as a public representation. Portraits also show the diverseness and variability that can be found within a single face. Since the invention of photography, it has been possible for anyone to take a picture of him or herself and to disseminate it. How will future developments in the media alter our view of faces and how we deal with them? Will the face-to-face conversation continue to epitomize our culture of dialogue?

Photo Gallery

Exhibition Data


Curator / Project management: Kathrin Meyer

Concept / Consultant: Sigrid Weigel, Professor for Literature and Cultural Studies, Berlin

Curatorial assistance: Roland Meyer

Curatorial team: Isabel Dzierson, Clarissa Lütz, Cornelia Wagner

Scenography: Studio Neue Museen, Berlin/Halle

Production: m.o.l.i.t.o.r. GmbH, Berlin


800 qm

Affectiva, Boston, MA
AMT Aromando Medizintechnik GmbH, Düsseldorf  
Marta dell’Angelo, Mailand
Anton Kern Gallery, New York, NY
Anwaltskanzlei Sven Adam, Göttingen
Archiv Robert Lebeck, Berlin
Ariane – The Overexposed Stock Image Model
Art Institute of Chicago
Kader Attia
Axel Springer Syndication, Berlin
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum der Charité – Sammlung Behrbohm
Berliner Zentrum für künstliche Gesichtsteile
Bezos Family Foundation, Seattle, WA
Bild Wissen Gestaltung. Ein interdisziplinäres Labor, Exzellenzcluster der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Boston Athenaeum, Boston, MA
bpk Bildagentur, Berlin
Bundesarchiv, Abt. Filmarchiv, Berlin
Bundesministerium des Innern, Berlin
Bratislava City Gallery
Broomberg & Chanarin, London
Bürgerkomitee Leipzig e.V. für die Auflösung der ehemaligen Staatssicherheit (MfS), Träger der Gedenkstätte Museum in der „Runden Ecke“
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d'art moderne/ Centre de création industrielle
Bilal Chanchiri, Fulda
Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA
Cognitec Systems GmbH, Dresden
Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT
Kate Cooper, Amsterdam/London
Sterling Crispin, Albuquerque, NM
Josh P. Davis, University of Greenwich, London
Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin
Deutsches Klingenmuseum Solingen, Solingen-Gräfrath
Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach
dpa, Hamburg
Dr. Kade / Besins Pharma GmbH, Berlin
École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris
Faception Ltd. – A Facial Personality Analytics Company, Tel Aviv
Ibrahim Fakhri / Zaher Omareen, London
Ute Finfera, Bruckmühl
Förderkreis Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Hamburg
Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit, Bonn
Forum Offene Religionspolitik e.V., Hannover
Fotomuseum Winterthur, Dauerleihgabe Andreas Züst
Fraunhofer Institut für integrierte Schaltungen, Erlangen
Greg French, Boston, MA
Georges Borchardt, Inc., New York, NY
GloryFeel GmbH, Hamburg
F.C. Gundlach, Hamburg
Haus der Geschichte Baden-Württembergs, Stuttgart
Gottfried Helnwein, Tipperary
Hochschule Fulda, Fachbereich Sozial- und Kulturwissenschaften
Esther Honig, Columbus, OH Internet + Software Services GmbH, Hard
Implantech Associates, Inc., Ventura, CA
Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, KS
Käptn Peng, Berlin
Kathi Kant, Zürich
Kent Police Museum, Kent
Jens Klein, Leipzig
Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin
Laerdal Medical GmbH, Stavanger
Martin Langhorst, Köln
Thomas Laux, Düsseldorf
Le Monde, Paris
Les Editions de Minuit, Paris
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Lisson Gallery, London
Jasper van Loenen, Rotterdam
My Pale Skin/Em Ford, London
Robert Longo, New York, NY
Florencia López Bóo
Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Media Licensing, Beverly Hills, CA
Metro Pictures, New York, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Paul Mobley Studio,, New York, NY
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.
Zanele Muholi, Johannesburg
Museum Ludwig, Köln / Sammlung Fotografie
Narrenzunft Frohsinn 1853 Donaueschingen e.V.
National Film Archive / Národní filmový archiv, Prag
National Park Service, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, D.C.
National Portrait Gallery, London
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution Washington, D.C.
Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO
neuzeitmedia Film- & Medienagentur, Frankfurt a.M.
New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, MA
New York Historical Society, New York, NY
Jochen und Mechthild Neynaber, Bühl-Neusatz
Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Göttingen
Nous Sommes Bobby Watson
NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, NY
Marcel Odenbach, Köln
Olbricht Collection, Essen
Philip Olterman, Berlin
Onondaga Historical Association, Syracuse, NY
Park-Klinik Weißensee GmbH, Akademisches Lehrkrankenhaus der Charité, Berlin
Paul Ekman Group, LLC, San Francisco, CA
Paul Ekman Papers, NAA, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Penguin Random House, New York, NY
Tatjana Petzer, Berlin
Philips GmbH Market DACH, Hamburg
Polizeimuseum Hamburg
Quintessenz Verlags-GmbH, Berlin
Joanna Rajkowska, London/Nowogród
Realeyes, London
Giles Revell / Matt Willey, London
Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden
Sammlung Wolfgang Knapp – Büro für Kulturwissenschaft, Mannheim
Lisa Schäfer-Fauth, Freiburg
Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, Bern
Leonardo Selvaggio, Chicago, IL
Cindy Sherman, New York, NY
Shinseungback Kimyonghun, Seoul
Taryn Simon, New York, NY
Dr. and Mrs. David A. Skier, Birmingham, AL
Sprüth Magers, Berlin
Skulpturensammlung, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Archiv Sohm
Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK, Frankfurt a. M.
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München
Stevenson Gallery, Kapstadt/Johannesburg
Stewart Cheifet Productions, San Mateo, CA
Stiftung Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden
Stiftung F.C. Gundlach, Hamburg
Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin
Studio Asta Gröting, Berlin
Studio Braun, Hamburg
Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin
Sean Talamas, University of St. Andrews
Teutloff Photo + Video Collection, Bielefeld
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA
The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection LLC and Galerie Lelong, New York, NY
The Science Museum, London
The Syndics of Cambridge University Library
The Wylie Agency, London
Ivonne Thein, Berlin
Universitätsbibliothek Augsburg
Universitätsbibliothek der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Universitätsbibliothek der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Universitätsbibliothek der Universität der Künste Berlin
Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig
Universitätsbibliothek Regensburg
Universitätsbibliothek Tübingen
Moritz Wehrmann, Berlin
Sigrid Weigel / Moritz Fehr, Berlin
Wellcome Library, London
Żak | Branicka, Berlin
Zentralpark Archiv und Medien, Dammereez
Zero to three, New York, NY
Zero Zero Robotics, Peking
Zuse-Institut Berlin

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