Four Pre-eminent Figures in American Culture Participate in Inaugural "American Pictures Distinguished Lecture Series"

February 15, 2008
News Release
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This spring, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum, in partnership with Washington College in Chestertown, Md., present a pioneering new series on art and portraiture in which four pre-eminent figures in American contemporary culture deconstruct a single image to illustrate how works of art reveal American identity.

The 2008 American Distinguished Lecture Series speakers are critically acclaimed novelist Allan Gurganus; world-renowned musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson; Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gary Wills; and celebrated actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith. The series director is historian and essayist Adam Goodheart, who is director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College.

"The Smithsonian American Art Museum is happy to partner with Washington College and the National Portrait Gallery on these exciting interdisciplinary presentations," said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "The series highlights the transformative power of art that inspires us all."

"This is a wonderful collaboration—one that serves the mission of both the college and the museums," said Carolyn Kinder Carr, acting director of the National Portrait Gallery. "For the National Portrait Gallery, a two-dimensional portrait of a renowned individual is an entry point into the multifaceted world of history, art and biography. The distinguished speakers in this series are cicerones, leading the audience into the rich arena that is the past."

The series debuts Saturday, March 8, when Gurganus offers his insights into Thomas Eakins's portrait "Walt Whitman." Anderson will discuss "Little Electric Chair" by Andy Warhol Saturday, March 15. Wills will examine Thomas Eakins's painting "William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River" Saturday, April 26. The 2008 series concludes Saturday, May 10 with Smith's exploration of Ruth Orkin's photograph "Member of the Wedding, Opening Night, Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris, New York City, 1950."

Additional information about the series and the speakers is available online at or in a printed brochure that is available at the museums' information desks.

"American Pictures" is made possible through the pioneering partnership among Washington College, the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Additional support comes from the Starr Foundation, the Hodson Trust and other donors.

Ticket Information
All lectures, which are free and open to the public, take place at 4:30 p.m. in the museums' Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium. Free tickets are available beginning at 3:30 p.m. at the G Street lobby information desk; there is a ticket limit of two per person on a first come, first served basis. Doors open for each lecture at 4 p.m.

The museums share a main entrance at Eight and F streets N.W. and are open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., except Dec. 25. Admission is free. Metrorail station: Gallery Place/Chinatown. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000; (202) 633-5285 (TTY). Web site:

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