What do Rubén Blades, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Patti Smith have in common? They would be great dinner party guests, of course, but the correct answer is that their portraits—and many more images of fascinating and important Americans—will be exhibited on the first floor of the National Portrait Gallery beginning on November 6 for a year.
Acquisitions come to the museum in many different ways. Families of significant subjects sometimes agree to part with precious portraits of their ancestors. In our current exhibition, we feature a charming portrait of Bob Hope by Norman Rockwell that his daughter treasured but gave to the museum so that others could enjoy it too. Charlayne Hunter-Gault decided to offer us her thoughtful portrait by Joseph Schwarz after it had been on view in the Dean’s office at the University of Georgia since the early 1960s, when she worked to integrate the university.
Artists may approach the museum when they have made compelling images of important figures from the worlds of sport, arts and letters, science, entertainment, politics, or business. Photographs by Annie Leibovitz of chef Thomas Keller and scientist Mathilde Krim, ADÁL’s gorgeous image of actor/singer Rita Moreno, Alec Soth’s sensitive depiction of author Marilynne Robinson, and Jerome De Perlinghi’s quiet image of conductor Seiji Ozawa are included in this exhibition, revealing their particular take on their subjects. The museum recently acquired a group of drawings from Antonio Martorell; two of them are in the exhibition, including a very large and colorful acrylic on paper likeness of the Nuyorican author Nicholasa Mohr. Many of the works included in this exhibition are gifts; by sharing them with the public we acknowledge our gratitude to the donors.
Curators also discover prints, video works, drawings, or paintings at commercial galleries. We include recently acquired prints from the nineteenth century, including a music sheet featuring an image of Frederick Douglass and an engraving first published just after George Washington’s death. The museum also acquired a video portrait of Yoko Ono from a New York gallery.
After the museum’s curators have identified these portraits and discussed them with the gallery’s historians at regular meetings, they make their way through our acquisitions process and are shipped to the museum. Conservators examine them, more research is done, and presentation materials are then created for Commissioners to review before they vote on the objects presented to them, twice each year.
When the National Portrait Gallery Commission approves a subject and his or her portrait for the museum’s collections, we begin the process to bring these wonderful objects into the collection. Purchases and gift documentation are finalized and cataloguing begins. After these new objects have been fully documented and photographed, they can be exhibited. What you will see, then, in the newest presentation of recent acquisitions, is the result of years of exploration, research, and preparation. We hope you will visit the show!
- Brandon Brame Fortune, Chief Curator