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Peer Factor

When it comes to posing for portraits, artists are far more “guarded and controlling” than the average sitter, and “stingy in terms of what they’re willing to give,” according to David Robbins, who in 1986 immortalized 18 rising art stars, among them Jeff Koons and Jenny Holzer, in “Talent,” a series of black-and-white head shots. “They’re professional image-makers and they understand the life of images. So they’re very aware of the angles from which they present themselves.”

Selections from Robbins’ series are on view through May 8 in “Likeness: Portraits of Artists by Other Artists,” at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco, which examines work by artists of the past three decades who have taken their peers and their mentors as subjects. The exhibition, organized by Independent Curators International, includes Robert Mapplethorpe’s unsettling portrait of the 71-year-old Louise Bourgeois, grinning and cradling a giant bronze phallus. David Hockney appears, rendered in luminous watercolors by Elizabeth Peyton. Cindy Sherman turns up in the guise of Liza Minelli, in a silk-screen diptych by Deborah Kass, who says the 1994 portrait is of “both a peer and a hero– I’m a big fan of hers.” At the time, Kass was at work on her “Warhol Project,” often casting artists as celebrities or as other artists: “I knew I wanted her to be Liza Minelli. I had the wig, she did the makeup.”

In Bruce LaBruce’s large-scale photograph “Naked AA Bronson,” the cofounder of the Canadian collective General Idea sits, in the buff, against a dark backdrop. “I was surprised by how nervous I was, posing for another artist,” the 57-year-old Bronson admits, adding, “I’m usually very comfortable with my clothes off. This time it took a bottle of cheap and awful alcohol, which Bruce generously supplied. But I’m quite pleased– and surprised– by the final product. He made me look like a public monument. It feels like something that will live on long after myself.”