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National Portrait Gallery Presents Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will present the first major museum exhibition showing how questions of gender and sexual identity have dramatically shaped the creation of modern American portraiture. “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” will be on view at the museum Oct. 30 through Feb. 13, 2011.

Long before the advent of today’s gay and lesbian movement there were many examples of art—paintings, sculptures, water colors, prints and photographs—that acknowledged a variety of sexual identities. This exhibition features artists and sitters with a range of identities, from exclusively same-sex to exclusively heterosexual.

“Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” will consider such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern Americans, how artists have explored the definition of sexuality and gender, how major themes in modern art—especially abstraction—were influenced by this form of marginalization and how art reflected society’s changing attitudes.

“The exhibition is titled, ‘Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture’ because those with different sexual identities— who are of, but not fully a part of, the society they portrayed—occupied a position of influential marginality,” said David C. Ward, co-curator of the exhibition and National Portrait Gallery historian. “From this vantage point they crafted innovative and revolutionary ways of painting portraits. Society’s attempt to forbid them forced them to resist by developing new visual ways to code, disguise and express their subjects’ identities—and also their own.”

The installation begins with late 19th-century works by Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent and charts 20th-century portraiture with 105 major works by masters, including Romaine Brooks, George Bellows, Marsden Hartley and Georgia O’Keeffe. It continues through the postwar period with works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Agnes Martin and Andy Warhol. The exhibition addresses the impact of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the AIDS epidemic and the advent of postmodernist attention to identities, indicating how portraiture repeatedly negotiated seismic shifts in American culture and society. “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” continues through to the end of the 20th century with major works by artists such as Keith Haring, Glenn Ligon, Nan Goldin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Wojnarowicz and Catherine Opie.

“‘Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture’ surveys more than 100 years of compelling expressions of American art,” said Martin Sullivan, director of the museum. “This exhibition reveals another layer of American social history, one that greatly influenced these artists’ work and American art as a whole.”

Among the objects in the exhibition are Salutat by Eakins; Painting No. 47, Berlin by Hartley; Brooks’ 1923 oil-on-canvas self-portrait; Rrose Selavy (Marcel Duchamp), 1920 by Man Ray; a photograph of Janet Flanner taken in 1927 by Berenice Abbott; Canto XIV [from XXIV Drawings from Dante’s Inferno] by Rauschenberg; We Two Boys Together Clinging by David Hockney; Troy Diptych and Camouflage Self-Portrait both by Warhol; Souvenir by Johns; Felix, June 5, 1994, by AA Bronson; and Ellen DeGeneres in Kauai, Hawaii by Annie Leibovitz.

Co-curators of this exhibition are Ward and Jonathan Katz, director of the doctoral program in visual studies, State University of New York at Buffalo.

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