09ModernPortraits photos austin only mga

By Brett Zongyer

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — New faces and nontraditional styles of portraiture are showing up at the National Portrait Gallery, a mix that includes Neil Armstrong, Nancy Reagan and even a dozen high school students from Washington.

The new exhibit "Portraiture Now: Framing Memory" features contemporary artists who use portraits to explore history and culture. It blends current figures such as historian Howard Zinn and civil rights activist Angela Davis with dead icons and leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King and Jacqueline Kennedy to show how their stories can be retold.

"In a sense, you get a picture of our nation, and that sets the stage for then going back into the historic galleries and thinking about ‘where did we come from?’" said Frank Goodyear, curator.


The portrait gallery is showing signs of change beyond its bright new building. The museum did away with its "10-year-dead rule." The rule had required subjects to be dead 10 years before they could be added permanently.

One of the most recent acquisitions is a portrait of Steven Squyres, the chief scientist for NASA’s Mars Rover mission. Goodyear said it’s an example of how the museum is seeking out portraits of the most historically significant living figures.

The "Framing Memory" exhibit includes new, abstract approaches to the traditional idea of a portrait.

For example, try to find Armstrong in Tina Mion’s portrait of the first man to walk on the moon. Instead of depicting Armstrong’s face, Mion’s version is an "object portrait" to tell the story of his moon adventure with a mix of symbols — a slice of Swiss cheese for the moon, Q-tips and marshmallows for the moon lander and a toothpick with an American flag.

"She has a wonderful wit, and that’s not a feature of a lot of portraits," said Wendy Wick Reaves, curator of prints and drawings. "You can walk through the portrait gallery and see a lack of wit in certain places."

Two pieces from Mion’s series of paintings of the first ladies — "Stop Action Reaction" portraying Kennedy and "Eyes Only for You" portraying Reagan — show the subjects not as "stiff formal figures but as women whose personal stories represent women’s experiences," Reaves said.

Another artist, Berkeley, Calif.-based Brett Cook, contributed two murals from his residency this year with students at Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts. The students traced and painted their own self portraits for the murals on mirrored paper to include the viewer’s reflection in a changing group scene.

Works by Alfredo Arreguin, Kerry James Marshall and Faith Ringgold broaden the exhibit to include experiences from black and Latino history.

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