current exhibitions
Portrait Competition civil war george washington


All © Nina Levy

Nina Levy's Portrait Heads
(2:29 min.)

Nina Levy's Portrait Heads

© Nina Levy

Nina Levy's Spectator (Nina Levy)
(2:20 min.)

Nina Levy's Spectator

Nina Levy (born 1967)

Nina Levy models her subjects from life in clay in an ancient tradition of observation and hand-craftsmanship. But the end product challenges the viewer's preconceptions about portraiture. In the gallery installation, heads of the other "Portraiture Now" artists—William Beckman, Dawoud Bey, Jason Salavon, and Andres Serrano—are suspended from wires at each subject's actual height. Rotating gently away from each other, the subject's detached heads suggest the tension between community and individuality. Levy's self-portrait, Spectator, with its unexpected distortion, emphasizes the fine line between the realistic and the surreal. As one critic has noted, Levy's sculptures have "the gut-level appeal of the strangest of Grimm's fairy tales." Many questions explored in contemporary portraiture—social and personal identity, issues of gender and race, the use of artifice and disguise—Levy reimagines with a fresh, intelligent sensibility.

Levy graduated from Yale University in 1989, and has an MFA from the University of Chicago. She lives in Brooklyn and is one of a new generation of figurative sculptors. Levy's distorted self-portraits have been featured in group exhibitions in New York, Chicago, and Europe. Her over-lifesize infant, Big Baby, was exhibited at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts (2004-5) and at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut (2003-4). The Aldrich also showcased a grouping of her hanging heads in a solo exhibition, "Portrait Gallery," in 2003. Levy's most recent one-person show, featuring images of her son and focusing on the relationship between parent and child, was "Family Resemblance," at Metaphor Contemporary Art in Brooklyn (2006). A good discussion of her work is Jan Riley, "(Dis)Respecting Figuration: A Conversation with Nina Levy," Sculpture (November, 2005).


related items
A printed transcript of Nina Levy's discussion is also available here.
     Audio transcript (PDF)

portraiture now
View the Gallery's extensive collection of books and exhibition catalogs. Publications are available through the National Portrait Gallery or the respective publishers.
 View publications list

 npg home | privacy | copyright | si home  

All featured material is copyright © Smithsonian Institution, 2004 except where otherwise noted.
Comments to National Portrait Gallery Webmaster.