This past Friday, after a rainy day exploring D.C., I found myself in the National Portrait Gallery. I say this as a strong supporter of anything Smithsonian and an even stronger supporter of experiencing free art, the National Portrait Gallery has never been my favorite museum. But my experience this past weekend definitely moved it on my list.
The National Portrait Gallery was founded in the early 1960’s by The U.S. Congress with the mission to house portraits of the “men and women who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the people of the United States.” As the description infers, the building is home to many portraits of older, white, men. Most famously, you can find the American President’s Exhibition which has a complete collection of the 44 past president in a variety of artistic styles. As I walked though the exhibit, almost as an oasis in a desert, appeared Kehinde Wiley’s 7 x 5 foot portrait of Barack Obama. This literally break-taking work of art is technically beautiful and uniquely creative, almost as if he was really sitting there in front of you surrounded by greenery.
As you continue to travel through the maze like floor plan, with seemingly endless small doors frames to peer into, the intriguing nature of the National Portrait Gallery sets in as you wonder what is around each corner. Another, amazing highlight of my visit was Titus Kaphar’s series in the ur Past in a New Light exhbit curated by Taína Caragol and Asma Naeem. This set of painting and sculptures physically depicted the whitewashing, racism and erasure of black people thoughout American history.
Traditional portraits were manipulated, mangled, and cut revealing the true history. As the exhibit description read, “…so many African-American have been literally left unseen in traditional museums and art historical narratives”. Diverse representation is crucial for the future of art and the future of this country. History is so often told through the art created at the time. The more minority groups who are given an equal platform to share their art, the better history will be remembered. The National Portrait Gallery holds a variety of perspectives dating back to the orgins on the U.S., I highly suggested taking a trip and promise you will leave with a richer sense of your own history.