UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar

 

National Portrait Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution

Mar 23, 2018 – Jan 27, 2019

For Out of Place, Gonzales-Day photographed object in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, and American Art Museum as part of a photographic exploration of portraiture, but unlike a conventional portrait exhibition, these portraits are of people the artist never met. They are portraits from our Nation’s past that the artist has created by searching for historic casts, busts, and other likenesses held in three museums at the Smithsonian Institution. In looking through the historic collections of these museums, Gonzales-Day was able to create a “portrait” of a very different kind than is normally featured at the National Portrait Gallery because it can also be seen, not only as a portrait of a museum, but more importantly, the exhibition paints a particular picture of our our Nation’s past. In addition to some well-known historical figures, the exhibition includes the likenesses of individuals who have largely been forgotten, and yet many of these objects actually record or capture, the physical presence of a living subject, recorded in plaster, over a hundred years ago. Some of these “portraits” were cast from life, others were sculpted by artists who looked at life-casts and photographs. In short, the exhibition allows us to question what we think of as a portrait, but there can be no doubt that there is something of the “real” taken “from life” in each room, and each of these figures –these portraits, can tell us something about our Nation’s past. By inviting viewers to share his discoveries, Gonzales-Day hopes that visitors may learn as much about the present as the past. This, as the museum actively seeks to acknowledge and engage with its own history, and to acknowledge our own history as a Nation of boarders, colonies, territories, states, federal districts, and “Indian” Nations.

 

image: Ken Gonzales-Day, “Hiram Powers, America, Smithsonian American Art Museum,” 2014 (printed 2017), archival pigment print, 78 x 41 x 2  in.


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