On Saturday, December 11, artist, musician, and National Book Award winner Patti Smith visited the National Portrait Gallery and spoke to a capacity crowd in the McEvoy Auditorium. In Washington to sign copies of her award-winning memoir Just Kids, Smith was interviewed by NPG historian David Ward. Smith told stories of her arrival in New York in 1969 and of her relationship with the late artist Robert Mapplethorpe.
Smith spoke of her passion for poetry, music, and the arts and also took time to address the controversy over NPG’s “Hide/Seek” exhibition. Of the removal of David Wojnarowicz's video A Fire in My Belly from the show, she stated, "I think it probably brought more attention to the video than it would have gotten anyway." Smith continued, "This exhibition is so strong and so beautiful and so diverse and so elegant. I was just nearly moved to tears by it. And I don't think it should be clouded by this one issue; that is unfortunate." (view the archived webcast)
Among her concluding remarks, she spoke of her life as an artist and of the concentrated effort it takes to create. As an homage to William Blake and to lives dedicated to art in the face of life's challenges, Smith performed her work “In My Blakean Year.”
Smith noted, "I went to New York City looking for a job [in 1969] and not just to fulfill my dreams as an artist. I went there because there was employment at the time, but really—I would tell anyone, especially a young person—what they should be interested in is the evolution of their work. It doesn't matter where they're working. . . . The really important thing is to focus on your work. . . . It's work—it's hard work. The first thing is developing your work into something worthy."
—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery