National Portrait Gallery Presents “One Year: 1968, An American Odyssey”

Exhibition Will Highlight Prominent History Makers of 1968
May 31, 2018
News Release
Detail from Irving Penn photo of musicians

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The year 1968 was a time of revolutionary change in the United States. Americans across disciplines put forth new ways of thinking that overturned the status quo and influenced the events that transpired over those twelve months. Coincidentally, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery also opened to the public that year. In celebration of the museum’s 50th anniversary, “One Year: 1968, An American Odyssey,” curated by Portrait Gallery Historian James Barber, will present a time capsule of a diverse group of figures whose legacies continue to affect the nation in ineffaceable ways. The exhibition will be on view June 29 through May 19, 2019. A press preview with the curator will take place on Thursday, June 28, from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

“It seems prescient that in 1968, when America was in political and social turmoil, Congress opened a museum ‘with a serious national purpose’ of telling the stories of those who had contributed to the country’s history and culture,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “Our public opening on October 7 that year provided an opportunity for citizens to recognize how far the nation had come since independence and to rededicate a sense of unity, despite growing social unrest in the aftermath of the brutal assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy. Today’s concepts of leadership, civic engagement, creativity and tenacity derive from those who came before us and the American odyssey that took place over the course of a single year.”

This one-room exhibition of 30 objects includes photographs, paintings, prints, drawings and magazines that highlight a time when Americans were questioning issues of leadership, citizenship and nationhood. In 1968, the Vietnam War reached a turning point, a Civil Rights Act was signed into law, and viewers followed everything from the Olympic Games to the first manned orbit of the moon live on television. Political and social change was sweeping across America. Newsmakers included President Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Richard M. Nixon, in addition to such cultural icons as Arthur Ashe, Joan Didion, Peggy Fleming, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Vince Lombardi, Sidney Poitier, and the three Apollo 8 astronauts.

Major artists whose work will be presented include Richard Avedon, Louis S. Glanzman, David Levine, Roy Lichtenstein, Irving Penn, George Tames and Robert Vickrey. “One Year: 1968, An American Odyssey” also will present original artworks that made the cover of Time magazine from the Portrait Gallery’s collection of over 2,000 portraits created for Time.

This exhibition has been funded by the Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer Endowment Fund. The public is invited to join the exhibition’s curator on Sunday, July 15, at 3 p.m., for a tour that will delve into the lives and events that shaped this memorable year.

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning 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 NW, Washington, DC. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and the museum’s blog.

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