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

October 25, 2010
News Release
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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.

The exhibition has been made possible by The Calamus Foundation with the leadership contributions of Donald A. Capoccia and Tommie L. Pegues, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional significant support is provided by many generous friends of the National Portrait Gallery, including the John Burton Harter Charitable Trust, E*TRADE, Ella Foshay, Vornado/Charles E. Smith, the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, Catherine V. Dawson, Robby Browne and Madison Cumnock, The Durst Organization, Ashton Hawkins and Johnnie Moore, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Occasions Caterers, the David Schwartz Foundation, Frank J. Sciame, Jonathan Sheffer and Christopher Barley, and Jon Stryker.

“Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
A 304-page catalog titled Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, will be published by Smithsonian Books and distributed by Random House. Authored by the exhibition curators, it will be on sale for $45.

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the history of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story. The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000; (202) 633-5285 (TTY). Website:

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Bethany Bentley

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