PostcarDC 1.11: Seek, no hide at the Portrait Gallery

Amazing how open Rockwell made Nixon look. So warm, unlike the reserved, cautious image we normally perceive him as.

Several images collide in my head as I waited for the plane back home:

1. Two men, youngish, one with a hockey stick, near Florida Avenue. As they walked down the empty street, my first reaction was “oh, no, he isn’t going to attack him with that hockey stick?!” Instead they stop, and one grabbed the other for a very long kiss as we watched at the light.

2. My niece’s fiance, comes home to tell her he saw a naked guy, dead and chopped up.

3. In the Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture show, there is a poignant image of a young man, now deceased, his sunken eyes still open, sitting in his deathbed. It is blown up big and grainy. My first reaction after the initial viewing was, did the deceased really want this final image of himself left for posterity? My second thought was how complacent we have become about AIDS. And for this reason one should see the show.

As I am confused over whether the image I saw, might have not been pulled, and only a copy since the artist Bronson asked the work to be pulled, please see more about AA Bronson’s “Felix, June 5, 1994” at:

While the above work says it all. I had read the review of Hide/Seek in ArtNews, I am still left somewhat unmoved by most images of the show. I was sorry to hear part of it, a video, was censored due to religious right wing pressure. And it was not long ago that the Corcoran did the same with Maplethorpe. Since when do we buckle to marginal religious group–like always, if they are Judeo-Christian.

But the show remained somewhat obscure and obtuse, as the two teenagers in briefs which begin the show. The opening reference to the red/pink Warhol self-portrait, again spectacle, but not special. Perhaps, I have gotten too old for young minds.

Hide/Seek was back to back with Elvis at 21. Both shows were no photos. Too bad for Elvis. Seeing it reminded you how celebrity and age drain even the most unpretentious. Nice photos, but one wonders if the shots were less memorial, and more for monetary reasons.

There was a touching tribute to Charles Schulz.

There was also two interesting presidential portraits. One was a Chuck Close version of Bill Clinton (left). The other was a “life” mask of Lincoln (right). One wonders by the pulled mouth and eye, if Lincoln might have had a Bell’s Palsy stroke.

There was the King in a full show, but only one shot of Dr. King that I can remember. This was over the King Memorial Day weekend. However, there was a small show of civil rights, near the Presidents Show. There is a lot of other work, a lot of it real nice, which has nothing to do with portraits!

My favorite being three William Johnson works. Johnson is always a pleasure to see, and these three are wonderful. The center one is actually used for a cover on a book on the Harlem Renaissance. It is funny that Jacob Lawrence teacher was actually Augusta Savage (a Florida native!), I always believed his real link was to Johnson.

Not every day you get to see three William Johnson’s in a row, so this becomes more biography than not.

Joh;nson’s Café in particular shows Johnson’s love of comics, as well as his knowledge of Matisse by changes in plane and use of pattern.

I have thought often, are some of these images “racist,” but after an age of Gollywogs, these are not exactly stereotypical. Johnson’s use of the red gloved hands and the wild white stockinged feet on the woman give kids plenty to talk about when likening work to cartoon, which was a very modern notion in his day. In my classroom I keep a copy of Three Girls, which sit under the Mona Lisa print.

There is something very Greek about Jo Davidson’s portrait of Gertrude Stein. Much different then the enigmatic version done, I think, by Lipschitz.

There is a lot to see in this museum. You should go, it is a little off the Mall, but always worth it. See my other post for this museum. As the Beatles would say, “a splendid time is guaranteed for all.”


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