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tv   National Portrait Gallery History and Mission  CSPAN  February 14, 2015 1:47pm-2:56pm EST

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that is american history tv. thanks very much for watching. hope you enjoy the rest of your day. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] >> this film is based on deborah willis, her groundbreaking book about black photographers. it is also very much aware of this other thing going on as well in which black people were constructed post-slavery, and even before the end of slavery as something other than human. it was part of the marketing of photographs and memorabilia and stereotypes that now would be considered -- in many ways, their aunt and us
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in terms of the way in which we might see ourselves, in terms of the way in which we might see others. ask sunday night at 80 eastern and pacific -- >> sunday night at 8 p.m. eastern and pacific. >> next, national portrait gallery senior historian david ward gives a virtual tour. he focuses on presidential portrait including andrew jackson, abraham lincoln, and harry truman. the smithsonian's portrait gallery has the nation's largest collection of presidential portraits. the director explains the gallery's mission and its efforts to interpret the collection for a 21st century audience. the kansas city public library hosted this event. it is just over an hour. >> thank you so much for having us. henry, thank you so much for this wonderful program at the kansas city public library. and the executive director thank you. it is such a pleasure to get to know you and see your amazing facilities. we are all terribly envious.
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also to alex, the executive director of the truman library. -- truman library institute. thank you so much. we have a partnership going, lending their major john kennedy portrait by de koening to us. i would like to invite all three gentlemen to come up to the stage because we are going to do an interesting unveil. robin trust and the art curator is going to unveil the reproduction. you will be able to see it on screen. we are going to do a virtual unveiling here. so, you've been a great friend of the portrait gallery. robin, are you ready? ok, let's go for it. here we go. [applause] i have to say that it was this wonderful serendipity when
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jonathan came to the portrait gallery, we started talking, and i said we need some help. there is a major painting that has come up. it's expensive. would you help us? the foundation and the entire kemper family, we feel that you are our family at the smithsonian, they said absolutely. , we could not do it without you. this is going to go up in the hall of president. david ward, our senior historian, is going to talk more about the presidents and what we do in a minute, but this original picture is in washington. and now you all have an invitation to come. it is your portrait gallery. thank you, gentlemen, so much for making it happen. [applause] so, now it is my distinct pleasure to invite up to the podium to talk a little bit about what we do our senior -- what we do, our senior historian david ward.
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i had the pleasure of working with david for a while now. we have a wonderful, deep and meaningful raging arguments about various topics. but it's very stimulating to work with david. he is one of those people that has a foot in history but also very muchcontemporary culture. -- very much knows his contemporary culture. he is an historian by training but has an art historian hat on. we are one of the only museums that i know that hires both historians and art historians. one day i will have to write a paper about what that is like. so, david, welcome to the stage. [applause] >> thank you, kim. i enjoy the argument. i want to thank the kempers.
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i'm an historian who cannot do genealogy. i want to thank the kempers of whom there are a fairly several -- there are several thousand. i want to thank the messy unit. i'm delighted to be the public levy because their only two seal you need and now is to know how to read. and i learned how to read in the public library where i grew up. i hope it is worthwhile for you. it has been worthwhile for me. what i want to talk about is the hall of presidents, political portraiture. and i want to talk about the smithsonian, which started as a museum of change. natural history specimens and technology -- dinosaurs and the dragster, steam engines, and snakes, at things like that. -- and things like that. sometime in the mid-1960's somebody realized, there are no people here. [laughter] which is a tough thing and a
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democracy, particularly a popular democracy like the united states and which, as andrew jackson and harry truman would say, people are king. the national portrait gallery was founded to give a human face to what had been a record of achievement by americans in other areas and we are found in, -- founded in the old patent office building which was begun in the 1830's in the administration of andrew jackson. we are the third oldest surviving federal building along with the capital and the white -- the capitol and the white house. we are in the patent office because -- there is a national dialogue on what it means to be an american. andrew jackson known as king
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andrew to his enemies, known as andy to his friends. the man who created the modern democratic party in which harry truman was the heir. giving birth to the small farmer in the south and the midwest forging a democratic politics against the whig aristocracy which defended from the federalist party of alexander hamilton, the national bank and the national capitol. andrew jackson, despite being a great democrat, was also somebody who, like most presidents -- i can only think of a couple exceptions who were not good politicians -- andrew jackson knew full well image is everything. he actually went so far -- this is one of the reasons why he was seen as king andy -- he hired an englishman to be his portrait painter.
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he lived in the white house and painted more than one, close to a dozen portraits of andrew jackson. it was an early form of political advertising, a form of creating a political image that would then be disseminated across the country and woodcuts and other media that would descend from this grand manner oil painting. the point i want to make is that all portraiture in some sense is a fiction. we expect it to be revelatory, tell us something about our inner soul, our personality, and our cap -- our character. what do you show and what you hide? political portraiture is important that you hide practically everything. because you want to be president, right? andrew jackson never looks like this. this painting is 8 feet tall. a fictive view of the truman library.
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it does not look like that with these pillars. we see the capitol in the background, the weeping willows, the tropical, and andrew jackson is smooth, elegant, altogether polished. he looks like he has invented the waterpower hairdryer. he's got the fantastic cloak. the see those heels which are a sign of his personal authority. great clothing. andrew jackson was probably the angriest man pound for pound in the history of the united states. he was about 5'10", 138 pounds. he was in constant pain because he had a bullet in his back from one of the five duels he had fought. he had taken a bullet. after being wounded, he stayed on his feet and killed the man who challenged him. andrew jackson was choleric, steeped in the masculinity of the tennessee frontier, in which a man defended himself first and then argued.
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he brought that same combativeness to his politics, challenging the judicial southern senators john calhoun and all the rest. as he staked out a claim for the common man, staked out a claim for the foundation of the oldest political party in the world -- the democratic party. this, of course, earl washes all of that away in this picture. absolute equanimity. of course, andrew jackson should be president. just look at him. it's fantastic. this portrait, which we have in a place of honor because the patent office building was done in his administration, dissent -- descends from this, which is the origins of most political portraiture, which is the lansdowne portrait of george washington, which is our signature image in the hall of presidents. the only people who get in automatically to the portrait
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gallery are the presidents. other people have to be voted in. it is a process we don't completely and. -- understand. and this picture, what is happening here is gilbert stuart is combining george washington create the office of the president. again, the sense in which the fraught history of the early republic, the revolution, all the rest of it are solidified in the person of washington, the inevitable, the essential man won the revolution, becomes the unanimous choice for president. and stewart creates this model of national unity in the figure of washington. so you have a whole series of symbols, again, there is this fictive space. washington did not have an open-air office in new york. this elaborate pillar. the winds of change are blowing. elaborate curtain. it does not take an art historian to see with the rainbow means. ronald reagan got his morning in america from this picture. do you see the great seal on the
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chair? you cannot do this after mussolini. this is fascist. the classical symbol of unity out of diversity. wrapped up the 13 colonies, the 13 states becoming one. and he then shows the law books underneath there, which is the root of our constitution, of our politicians. what stewart was doing was that he was playing off this, the -- icu starting -- i see you starting to laugh. you are good americans. i like that. this is george iii. handsome man. swanking about the palace at windsor. this was his coronation. he is wearing every endangered species known to man. and elaborate, corrupt -- the american revolution was fought on the corrupt liberties by england.
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stewart styrips -- strips everything down and creates a black suit. washington's service as a general is reduced to a sword. it's a great touch. the ink well is noah's ark. it is incredibly important to american political ideology. america is where the world will begin anew. this is where we can be purified -- the last just man, in this case washington, will lead us into a new path of righteousness. this is the beginning of the american republic and is very complicated political portrait. when washington left office after two terms, setting the precedent, george iii said by doing that he became the greatest man in the world because what he meant was there would be no monarch, no caesar no dictatorship, no hereditary ruler. there would be a republic of you -- if you could keep it, in the
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words of ben franklin. so far we have. as we progressed from that into the 19th century, i have to let you in on a secret. american painting in the 19th century is not very good. america has always had an ambivalent view of the arts. painting in the 19th century is seen as a kind of corruption, a diversion from our duty of settling the land. making this country, making the politics. it is seen as effete, as corrupt. it is not until later in the century that you begin to get art institutions, including places like nelson atkins, that begin to support a civic idea of art and culture. what you have in the 19th century is pretty good portraiture. because there was a necessity, particularly for politicians, to get their images out there. that continues to this day with television. these people were not known. it is not a society saturated with images. there would again be this process of oil paintings made to commemorate a life and career.
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in this case, a very sly martin van buren. looking especially sly and foxy at this particular moment in his career. martin van buren would famously not give an opinion on anything, including whether the sun came up in the east. he famously responded, “i do not get up until 10:00 a.m., so i have no opinion on that.” [laughter] >> here is old kinderhook here. this is a reputational portrait by gpa healey, which is par for the course. a nice solid oil portrait. that element of blocking off all the tumult of politics, as we see with jackson and van buren the whole politics of the 19th century gets subsumed into the formalities of this pose. then you run into lincoln, in the most dramatic case. the best pictures in our hall of
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presidents for the 19th century, because lincoln recognized that things were changing with photography. he paid attention to the idea of verisimilitude. a one to one ratio of likeness to features. he had these life masks made would become everything from madame tussaud's waxworks or sculptures. but there was this hunger by the american public to know what people look like. on the left is lincoln before the inauguration. he hasn't grown the beard. on the right is lincoln two months before ford theater. he's grown the beard, he's exhausted. it looks like a death mask. people think it is a death mask because he is so exhausted. lincoln recognized early on the power of photography to establish a democratic persona in our democracy. this is the famous picture that matthew brady took of him when he went east to speak at henry ward beecher's church and the cooper union.
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this is a carte de visite, so it is actually tiny. that is one of the problems with powerpoint. it is the size of a visiting card, carte de visite. lincoln said, matthew brady took the picture that made me president. lincoln comes east, he buys a suit at brooks brothers, goes down madison avenue, and he has brady take his portrait. it establishes him, along with the speech, which is a well reasoned argument against secession and for the union, it establishes him not just as an intellectual, but also the persona that he becomes identified. he becomes known. this becomes his calling card -- carte de visite. this is the next to last portrait of lincoln. this is where political portrait disappears into myth. this is alexander gardner's famous cracked plate of lincoln of which there was only one.
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the plate -- no film it was a , glass plate negatives. gardner somehow took the plate out and it cracked slightly. you can see the line. gardner took one image and said, that is not any good and threw the plate away. so we have the only cracked plate image. it is february 1865. the war is winding down. lincoln knows he has won it. because of the plate cracking, you can see this is out of focus. this is where the plane of political portraits hiding things becomes broken and we start to step inside the space inhabited by an actual human being. because this is lincoln between life and death. he is looking forward to reconstruction, looking forward to a second term, looking forward to winning the war. we know he is going to die. this is us triangulating backwards from our vantage point, meeting the past halfway
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with the assassin's bullet. you can even read the line of the crack as john wilkes booth you can read it as the division of the union being bound up in lincoln's own body. but what this is, as an historical document, it's incredibly revelatory, is the combination of myth and history. when he dies stewart famously says now he belongs to the ages. or conversely, now he belongs to the angels. it was noted that lincoln was shot on good friday. the element of mythmaking begins almost instantly with this. that transports us away from the vernacular of political portraits that i have been discussing. which gets reestablished in the 20th century. oil painting remains the vital -- it will be interesting to see who the first president is who does a photograph or some other media, some other medium to represent himself. or herself. see what i did there? [laughter]
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but so far, oil painting remains king. this is a study of franklin roosevelt that was never completed because of his death. someone said a portrait is where something is wrong with the smile or the hands. you can see the artist really concerned with this study about what to do with the hand in which roosevelt is holding his glasses and pen. it was a study for the conference at yalta. you can also see joseph stalin. that's the only way joseph stalin is getting in our collection -- through an unfinished portrait. [laughter] not a great american, joseph stalin. the only way he is getting it is this unfinished sketch. i want to point out in terms of changing manners and mores, you notice the president is smoking. you can't do that anymore. one of franklin roosevelt's accoutrements was an ivory
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cigarette holder. smoking a cigarette both in the study and in the finished picture. you can see the kind of sensitivity which is being reestablished and balanced between a kind of informality with the pose of the cigarette and his famous naval cloak. and the leonine head of the president looking thoughtful and powerful. we have reestablished vocabulary of the president. as a historian of the portrait gallery, because we are a national museum, there are certain political issues that come up. i have a macro on my computer which answers a question for the next two pictures. we had someone say, you must hate jack kennedy because you have this terrible abstract portrait of kennedy. you must be un-american, you
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hate jack kennedy. this is a 1962 elaine de kooning portrait of john f. kennedy. we are doing a talk about this later. what it is is a way in which art is beginning to influence the political portrait, the balance between the lightness of the -- the likeness of the head. it is not a complete abstraction. you can see jack kennedy clearly delineated against the vigorous brushstrokes. so this is a very large picture. the next one is jack kennedy's great antagonist, richard nixon. this is a smaller picture. about 10 x 15 by norman rockwell. i have people say you must be a left-wing communist democrat, because you have a giant jack kennedy and a small richard nixon. you must hate richard nixon. i have a macro on my computer that says it has nothing to do with that. these pictures are in opposition and in conversation
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with each other in the galleries. you have the abstraction of the de kooning portrait talking and conversing with the realism in the depiction of norman rockwell. i do have to tell an anecdote about harry truman. harry truman was probably the last president who is going to be allowed to swear in public. harry truman said, there are two sons of bitches in politics i hated, and one of them was richard nixon. in 1968, richard nixon is elected president. with all respect to him, he was doing the best he could with what was one of the worst years in american history. again, rockwell turns this into a thoughtful portrait of the president. again, going all the way back to the grand manner of portrait of jackson, it wipes out all questions.
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you cannot necessarily tell character by a portrait that is painted. there is this interesting question of call and response, back and forth, between what is revealed and concealed. looping all the way back, we have harry truman. this is the person we were replacing, which has been up in the gallery for a while. it is a good likeness. i have to say it is a little soft. you will notice the theme of a landscape over to the side. a little bucolic. it looks a little like a reader's digest illustration from the 1950's. i do not think it completely gives truman his due. which is why the portrait you have gotten a copy of, this one, bob fitzgerald -- i think he likes to talk -- he was talking to me before the presentation.
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this is a stripped-down unadorned portrait that does not have the accoutrement that we see in the gilbert stewart. it's an absolute likeness of truman. he is looking at you with this wise expression. his jaw is determined. he is wearing the fancy suit the pocket square. there is the national flag. the flag of the great seal. what you have here is a picture of absolute authority in one of the most fraught periods of history. certainly one of the most anxiety producing periods in harry truman's life. it is may 1945, he is just become president. all the moons and planets have fallen on him. he has just been told about the atomic bomb, the war in europe has ended, but he is facing the monumental task of ending the war in japan, with or without the atomic bomb. and then dealing with the soviet union.
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you see absolutely none of that in this forthright portrait of harry s truman. again, and truman confesses in his writings that he feels anxious. that he cannot measure up. he has a sense he is only going to be able to do the best he can. and that may well not be good enough. he is a very shrewd judge of other men and women. he resolves to do the best he can. i want to conclude with the way in which this portrait at that particular moment in our time in history, seems to make the success of the truman presidency inevitable. and makes a whole lot of questions move. there's the question of shutting off, questions of discord, questions of conflict. so why do this?
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why do this formal political advertising? why commemorate the president as a stuffed shirt? you do it because you are commemorating a role. you are paying attention to the issues in his presidency. in the way in which we need to honor these people. honor the presidents. we have the only full collection of all the presidents. i invite you to see it in more detail. for me, as a historian, they serve as almost a time travel situation. what you are seeing behind it is everything that leads up to the picture of absolute authority. picture of absolute equanimity. what you do is start with this portrait and move backwards in the history of truman, his incredibly interesting life, the way in which you worked up out of kansas city, working for his father on the farm, through the army, to the vice presidency.
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an incredible story. really last the ordinary american to become president. maybe ronald reagan too. the way this is a portal back into time and into the incredibly complicated and difficult ways in which someone makes a career at anything, let alone as inexplicable as the president of the united states. so you juxtapose that picture with this one, which gets us into the nitty-gritty of politics. it gets us back into all the complexities, not just of american politics, all of the issues we continue to grapple with, but all of the issues of character and personality that someone is self-aware and vibrant as harry truman exemplified in a long and well lived life. give them hell, harry. thank you. [applause]
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>> my name is kim sajet. that is a little glimpse into the 23,000 portraits we have at the national portrait gallery. you can see we represent all of america. as i often say, we are the kind of glue that keeps the smithsonian together. whether it is einstein or jane goodall or neil armstrong. we relate to the aerospace museum and the zoo. we relate to all of you in that way. one of the worst forms of punishment you can give to someone is to put them into solitary confinement. we are a museum about people and for people. but we are part of that humanity. i would like to talk a little bit about the challenges. this is our building. it takes up four blocks. there was a renovation in 2006.
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you can see the wonderful courtyard roof done by norman foster. we are not on the mall, thank goodness, because that is a very crowded place. we are a very contemplative place to come. we like to say we are the place of america. when i worked that out, i was so happy. -- the face of america. as we talk about the challenges, one of the challenges for a portrait gallery in this day and age, we often say if we were just a place -- you think of a portrait gallery as where you see famous men and women, that would put us to shame. we are focused on education. history is the worst performing subject in the united states. why does that matter? if you do not know why we have the freedom of speech, particularly in europe with charlie hebdo, if you do not know why that is important, we
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have freedom of religion and the press, the right to vote -- all the values that keep this country together and is much admired around the world. we are not teaching the foundation of that through history. the people who made that history, we could be just like this cartoon. i actually say we are contemporary. the art of history, but we are also about art. it is not rocket science, the way we get work into this collection. you have to have a representative picture of men and women have made an impact. even though you can see george custer's portrait in the 1860's as a young man, you can be in the middle, george patton, and a very recent commission we did of colin powell.
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we can tell the trajectory of the u.s., which makes each of these pictures, whether it was done in the 19 century or today, contemporary. we are bringing all of our background to today. i would say this is as much a contemporary picture because you are looking at it as the colin powell. we can make some of these great association. you want to think about technology, particularly communications. we have benjamin franklin. for those of you who are lucky enough to have a $100 bill in your wallet. you recognize this picture. we have thomas edison in 1890. i love this picture. i do not know if many people realize, but he was largely deaf after 14. but we have the photograph which he presented as a patent. kind of comes full circle.
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the photograph was brought to the patent office building which is the national portrait gallery. we have a picture in 1982 of steve jobs. we can look -- if we want to look at oracle rice, we have -- oracle rice -- orville wright, we have amelia earhart, and buzz aldrin and michael collins in 1969. this is one of my favorite pictures. i use this as a way of talking about the problems we face and the challenges we have. i love this picture. i have been a little obsessed, one might say. it is called men of progress. it is from 1862. these are the brightest minds in invention. we are telling the whole world we are smart and an innovative country.
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can see various patents that have come to the patent office buildings. you may not be able to see it here. this is colt with his gun. the telegraph in the corner. all of these individuals are being sort of looked at by the ultimate individual of innovation in america, which is ben franklin himself. doesn't this make you feel fantastic? yes, if you are a white man. i look at this, and it is interesting. i am the first female director of the gallery. i have been told i'm shaking things up a little bit on that front. were there no women allowed to do patents, administer patents in the patent office building?
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i did some research, and around 2400 patents were submitted by women. then we find the situation that we have the patent. if you want to register an idea, you had to actually bring a small model of what your idea was and some drawings. margaret knight invented the paperback making machine. but we have no idea what she looked like. what are we to do? we talk about the history of the united states through its people. we do not know what margaret looks like. we would probably love to include her and many other women. but one of the things we pride ourselves on is the center has had a relationship with the artists. so we are in this weird situation where we do not want to go back in time and fill in. what are the things we are talking about is, how do we show the presence of absence in galleries? another example, and if we are talking about the trajectory of
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women, we recently had this painting come in. you can see soanya sotomayor ruth bader ginsburg, and sandra day o'connor. we call it the supremes. [laughter] they came and had their unveiling. i cannot tell you how many times i come across the gallery and see some bright spots. people take a selfie. it is the easiest way to get into the supreme court that i know of. belva lockwood, you see this wonderful woman of 1913 who graduated from law school in washington and became one of the first female lawyers in the united states. she became a teacher and a principal. despite the fact she was not allowed to vote, she actually
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wanted to become president and ran for president in 1884 on the ticket of national equal rights party. she was the first woman ever to appear on the official ballot. it was thanks to women like belva, who is in the collection, that we can talk about the story of the supremes. it is not just about women. it is also about native americans. here we have sequoia. sequoia was a son of a cherokee chief who worked to develop a written form of the native language. he created an alphabet in 1828. we have geronimo in the middle in 1890. then foots to shoulder born in minnesota. this is a portrait of him in 1987.
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we come to african americans frederick douglass care very much about how he was perceived. he spent a lot of time in his dress and perception of him. the reality was you was a very learned individual. we have w e dubois of 1925, who talked about the challenge of being african american and american. the two types of identities african had to play and continue to play. and henry louis gates junior, a recent portrait from 2011. we also have latinos. we are proud to say we are doing a lot of work now accepted about 50 new portraits in the last 18 months.
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we have a curator really looking at who is missing. the presence of absence. we will be doing an exhibition on dolores huerta, standing next to cesar chavez and the farmworkers in the strike. we also had the pleasure doing an exhibition on dance. rita moreno still looks like this now. she was in west side story. there she is looking glamorous in 1958. and pedro martinez in 2000. and asian-americans, james wong howe, a photographer of over 130 films. anna mae wong in 1937. and the disabled. particularly with all the conflicts we have had overseas whether it is physically disabled or other disabilities
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like i mentioned with edison, i think that one thing museums have not done a great deal of is being inclusive of our population of people who have disabilities. here are three examples. alexander hamilton stephens in 1882. christopher reeves in 2004. and elwood kelly and chuck close, some of the greatest american artists we have had. it is a detail of a larger painting in 2002. one of the questions we have to ask ourselves is how do we, as a 21st century institution, make sure we are inclusive of everyone without rewriting history and staying true to our tenets? we always have these arguments that, had someone made national significance, and that is where the historians come into play, can we find a great work of art?
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sometimes you just cannot. we commission it. one of the wonderful things, i have the greatest job in the world, i get to meet all these very interesting people. this was a portrait presentation with maya angelou. it was about two weeks before she died. we got calls that she was not well, we had to do it soon. we did not know what she would be like on stage. she kind of came alive and sang gospel tunes that reached to the back of the auditorium. we were amazed. oprah winfrey was there. julian bond. it was just a wonderful event. we have a wall in the portrait gallery where someone passes away. recently, robin williams. we put their portrait up and we invite the public to write in a book.
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when we did that for maya, we sent the book to her family. as we were mentioning to friends earlier, up until recently, you had to be dead for 10 years before you got into the portrait gallery, which made it hard to be contemporary. it also made it hard to be hard that you did have portraits where the artist had a relationship with the sitter. so we were the first portrait gallery -- and ever since we instituted this in 2002, the portrait gallery in london has joined us. another in australia and scotland. even those we beat. we were the first to say, we are going to create this other category called the contemporary collection, where you are kind of in the middle. you are in purgatory.
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it allows us to think, has this person made significant impact on the country? and at least get the work into the collection and let future generations decide whether they have made an impact or not. you can see katy perry dressed as a cupcake with the artist will cotton. this was put together recently. i am always cursing the portrait gallery in london. they have their kings and queens, people getting their head cut off. it's all terribly dramatic. what is not to love? they still have princes. princess kate goes to visit the m everyone goes hysterical. because whatever she is wearing is fabulous. we have cupcake katy. she looks like a queen. she is a tiara that a scepter you can really model this , picture, very similar to a portrait of elizabeth the first. -- elizabeth the third.
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butter would not melt in this woman's mouth. i think that was very intentional. the other thing we are thinking, and we talk a lot about, is making sure we look at how portraits are being made. it is not just about the people, it is about the artwork. this is mya linn. we often have a dialogue. if you know about her, she did the vietnam veterans memorial when she was young. she is very much into data. a real data geek. she is an architect and an artist. she said, i really love this artist karen saunders. she does 3-d scanning. we had literally kind of a mini mya. it is 3-d. she got scanned. it will be on a little pedestal in an exhibition coming up called ipop.
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one of the things we say to people, and we change exhibitions constantly, in 2013, we did 12% of exhibitions at the smithsonian. we are like gerbils on the wheel. can't stop. there is always something new to see. even with the presidents, we change those portraits. we kind of update them all the times. we have 1600 portraits of the presidents. but there is always something new. this is an example. david went into the life masks of lincoln. there's a long tradition of life masks. here is the life masks of george washington. as you may heard in recently in the news, we did the first 3-d printing of president obama. it is really an extension of the life mask. first, they tried to do a demonstration on our lincoln life mask.
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i had the great pleasure of going to the white house. it took them three days to set up the equipment in the dining room of the white house. the president came in and saw the lincoln mask. i said, here you go. this was 1860 and 1865. he said, that is what the presidency will do for you. [laughter] >> i said don't want to tell you. you can be very glad that you live today and do not have to have five hours of plaster stuck up your nose. he literally sat down for five seconds, a light went off, and we have -- this is an absolute replica of the president. of course, it is in the traditional white. they can even replicate the skin tones and colors. it is a very interesting conversation about where is the artist in the process as we are thinking about identity? we are now doing video art. this is jason sullivan's work
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called “the midnight triad.” three talkshow hosts, letterman, leno, and conan o'brien, all talking at the same moment. it fills the room, and it's really kind of fun. people get it and really enjoy it. part of the video is the challenge of actually keeping to the spirit of the artist. when we first got this piece, it was in 2004. we showed it again in 2010. all the technology has changed. you could get better projectors, better screens. as you update those, you're changing the original work of art. this is where being part of the smithsonian is fabulous. we have a lot of smart people who are leading the way in thinking about technology in art making and record-keeping, whether it is websites or blogs or anything else.
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i am very interested in -- there were a couple of ways to think about the portrait gallery. one is the collection. fairly recognizable portraits of men and women. let's look at who is in and who is out. then there is exhibitions. we have the permanent collection that tells the history of america and the president. but also about biography. we have a room where we will focus on a single person. about history, we did the war of 1812 as told through its people. also identity. hopefully, this was something you heard about. we created a six acre portrait on the national mall made out of 2000 tons of sand, 800 tons of topsoil. that was during october. you can see that the lincoln memorial is the world war ii memorial. on the corner would be the
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washington monument. the picture was taken from the washington monument. it was done by a cuban-american artist called jorge rodriguez. is called out of many, one. e plurabus unum. he walked around the national mall and took people of young men between the ages of 18-35 and created a composite image. it is an amalgam of many people. you could walk through it. the pictures are little fuzzy. your perception changes when you are on the ground versus seeing it from the air. it was a great way to announce that the portrait gallery is not what you may be once thought it was. we want to talk about identity. him and him about what it is to be human and american and part of this community we call america. you could see it from space. it was kind of remarkable.
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more remarkable is that we did this with the national park service. [laughter] not to be underestimated. a lot of people said, we cannot believe you pulled this off. we did it in eight months. all the material was donated. it cost the american people nothing. when we went to the national park service, and we have this really crazy idea, what do you think? expecting to be rejected, they never do anything like this. you have to sell your first-born child to do things on the national mall. this is the reflecting pool. they say, we love it. we thought we were in an alternate time space continuum. they were great partners. it was absolutely fantastic. they said, we want to do more of this kind of project. got a real conversation going in the center of washington. i'm going to spend a little time
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talking about the exhibitions coming up. this is one life, grant and lee. we have done martin luther king, amelia earhart. one side is grant the other side's lee. very elegant and really terrific. we do this one, a contemporary art installation of six artists that are performing their identity. they are all u.s. latino. it is a really interesting show. interestingly, a lot of the artists are referencing their families. just a little story -- the elaine de kooning portrait of john kennedy belongs to the truman library. they have a policy of commissioning the portrait of the living president. the kennedy administration consciously chose elaine.
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she was a fast painter, and jack kennedy did not sit down for a long time. she got kind of obsessed with jack kennedy. you can see the obsession at play in the photograph. there were many pictures and drawings she did. in him a whole section of the exhibitions will be on the kennedys. she was a hell of a painter. she has never had a major show. as we often say, she was not in her husband shadow, but in his light. it's about time she got some recognition. ipop and the celebrity gaze. particularly with a artists, and
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the sitter, someone is always manipulate someone else. we have spike lee, brad pitt. it is a big picture and the eyes are mesmerizing. and a big video of britney spears. it is a very interesting pop moment, in this very baroque gold frame. kind of complicated messaging going on about iconography and the madonna. it is going to be a great exhibition on our first-floor gallery this year. in this is another exhibition that david is doing. by now, you will recognize the alexander gardner cracked plate lincoln. dark fields of the republic. after the civil war, lots of matthew brady's pictures were attributed to alexander gardner, who worked with him and had a studio in washington. after the civil war, he went west. definitely cut through this part of the world.
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he documented the native american tribes. he has never had a major exhibition. it will be a big retrospective very beautiful. work that has never been seen before. we are partnering with the national museum of the american indian on that. very quickly, what else do we do? we do conservation. storage and installation. digitization. about 20% of the collection is digitized. online online collections and social media. there are some of the mobile apps we do. in and we focus on teachers, because we believe we can help teachers teach history better. i think the reason history's worst performing subject in the united states is because we have been teaching it badly for a
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long time. if we could actually talk about it from the perspective of individuals, which is always interesting, i think we would to have different thoughts about history. teenagers, you can see we have a program where teenagers actually become one of the people in our portraits and do research on them and have to deliver a monologue or play to the public. and public programs. in i hope you can guess. it is not a normal public in washington. this was an elvis competition family day. kind of a lot of fun. art-making workshops. spaces for the public to come and truly make art. and we have touring exhibitions. we very much hope some of our exhibitions will be able to come here. we would love to come talk to you about anything. me you about anything. and that is the great thing about the portrait gallery.
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you can see some of the shows we sent on the road. going in the wrong direction. and this is our courtyard. from the inside, we literally have an urban garden with a river that runs through it. i really do hope you can come in and see us. we plan to be here. i hope we will meet again. so i'm going to invite david to i come up. we are going to open the floor up for questions if you have any. you will go from there. [applause] who is any questions? inany questions? >> that was easy. >> fantastic. no questions at all? no burning desires? oh, great. >> when i visit the gallery, and i will now, what presidential portrait captures the true character of that president?
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>> the cracked plate lincoln for me, is the piece in the gallery. the cracked plate lincoln is -- i find it an incredible work of art. i tried to indicate that it opens up so much in terms of the relationship between history and character. it is evocative. the other thing is that gardner was very skillful. that's why hope to show in my large retrospective of his work. just so i will not repeat the entire talk, if you saw the custer picture that kim shared when of the things about photography is that it allows you to go back into the midst of a career. you do not do a retrospective of martin van buren at the end of his term. when you do is you see custer at age 23 before he becomes custer. i find that incredibly moving. >> the video at the beginning, i thought was extraordinarily
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powerful. it was like looking at a family album. they were my uncles and aunts. except they were these great national figures. question -- all these wonderful presidents, do we have wonderful not presidents? the ones who just missed, the ones who missed by a lot? >> we did an exhibit on the -- let's just call them what they are -- losers. [laughter]
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first of all, there is a genealogy of politics that we have, particularly in the 19 century. henry clay ran for president 37 times. clay-webster, calhoun. breckenridge. stephen douglas. people that ran repeatedly. we did an exhibition on the people who did not make it. the gallant losers. that was some time ago. then we bring them up because people who run for president, by and large, have careers that we can use in other areas. >> should mention that not until the clintons do we now collect first ladies at the same time. we have a beautiful portrait of hillary. we are not allowed to put it out. it could be seen as us making a political statement. a but it is in one of our offices. a gorgeous picture. when we find a great picture of one of the first ladies, we have a terrific dolly madison, which our artist friends love.
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she famously saved a major portrait of washington when the white house was burning. one she is kind of the patron saintess of art historians. in we're collecting the girls. >> the thing that people tend to forget about is that even famous people did not necessarily have a portrait done of them. and that gets to the real -- the fact we have to inspect the discipline of portraiture and art and the career. the worst case in that is we get complaints that do not have an oil painting of dr. king. the tragic reason for that is he was killed before any oil painting could be done of him. we have x. very powerful photographs of him. but there is simply no oil portrait of him. it is reflective of the tragedy.
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>> you did not mention your competition. if you could just make a few comments about that. >> so to give them credit, the national portrait gallery of london has had for a while a national orchards competition. there's is different from ours. it is just painting. i think it would be exhausting. we do it every three years and it is all mediums. we are very much hoping we can tour it to the rest of america. it is open to any artist living and working in america. they have to have a masters in that medium and a relation with a sitter. we had about 400 entrants and picked 48 artists. the first and second prize winners were video. the winner of the portrait competition is then commissioned to do a portrait of someone we want in the collection. we actually had the winter do a
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video piece of esperanza spalding, which is kind of great. you can look it up on youtube. we sort of released this work of art. it is not actually in the gallery. it is in a virtual environment. we had a woman who was japanese-american. she said, when i came to this country, i realized all i do is eat rice. she made a self-portrait out of rice of herself. it is the public -- they love it. it is so real. you can see all sorts of -- it is what is the cutting edge of the genre. if you know people who are artists, we encourage them to apply. complete unknown artists come to us that way. >> the other thing i will say real quickly, going back to the political nature of this country, the english portrait gallery is by invitation. by democracy, anyone can enter
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ours. >> we are just better than they are. [laughter] says the australian. >> we welcomed you here. >> i was surprised to learn that there are six states that have no elected women in office. i was thinking about how portraiture may serve as a view of what is happening. because you are close to that, particularly with contemporary portraits, what are you seeing that we might not see? just to give you an opportunity to sort of have a lens on our culture that we may not be aware of. >> one of the interesting things, we spend a lot of time talking about that recently. you might be surprised to learn that 25% of the collection has women in it. the numbers completely dropping we start getting into african-americans and native americans.
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the challenge is history is history. we cannot rewrite that. but we are making a conscious effort to say who is not in the gallery. that also applies to different disciplines. one of the things we are conscious of, we would like to have more businessmen and women in the collection. we had the gates. we would like more scientists. this is such a diverse country. the women question is something i often think about. it also comes down to, is there a great work of art? recently, a portrait of someone we wanted in the museum came to light. we thought the picture was horrible. we said, well, and there was a big argument with our commissioners, who have to approve this. they said, the hell with that. this should be in the portrait gallery. we said, yes, but it is a bad work of art.
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hopefully something will come around again. we have this exhaustive list of people we want. this is where becomes interesting, between the historians and art historians about what is available, who is there, who is missing. there is always spirited conversation. >> who is going to get here first? >> this will be quick. i just want to pay the highest compliment. both of you are engaging and electrifying speakers. you made a gallery that is absolutely irresistible. [applause] >> i just want to point out the gentleman is wearing sandals. it is 25 degrees. i am taking his complement with a certain amount of skepticism. [laughter]


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