What Is Today's Portrait?

A portrait can communicate much more than a likeness. Is it a miniature love token? A window to the soul? A captured moment? A negation of personality? And what means do artists use? Pointillist painting? Plasticized sculpture? Pastel drawings? Pixilations? Images based on individual DNA? Psychedelic video?

The National Portrait Gallery invited artists all over America to investigate the contemporary art of the portrait for the second Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, held in 2009. The competition and resulting exhibition celebrated excellence and innovation, with a strong focus on the variety of portrait media used by artists today. The National Portrait Gallery welcomed single figures, groups, or self-portraits—from classical drawing and painting or hyperrealistic sculpture to large-scale photography to prints and new media.  The competition is named for Virginia Outwin Boochever (1920–2005), a former Portrait Gallery volunteer whose generous gift has endowed this program.


What is the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2009?

The competition was open to all professional artists age 18 and over who are living and working in the United States. Both emerging and midcareer artists were invited to participate. Each artist entered one work depicting anyone—a friend, a stranger, a relative, a self-portrait—but each portrait had to be the result of the artist's direct encounter with that person. While the human form must have been the focus of the work, artists were invited to interpret the concept of portraiture broadly; for example, an entry might not have included a face. The work must have been completed after January 1, 2007.
The winner of the competition, Dave Woody, received a cash award of $25,000 and was awarded a separate commission to portray a remarkable living American for the Portrait Gallery's collection. The winning artist and the Portrait Gallery are collaborating to select the subject for the commissioned portrait. The second-prize winner, Stanley Rayfield, received $7,500, and the third-prize winner, Adam Vinson, received $5,000. Four additional artists were commended for their work: Margaret Bowland, Yolanda del Amo, Gaela Erwin, and Emil Robinson. The commended artists received $1,000 each. All finalists' works formed a major exhibition now on view at the National Portrait Gallery from October 23, 2009, until September 6, 2010.
Entries were only accepted electronically, through the National Portrait Gallery's Web site,
, from June 2 until July 31, 2008. Entry to the competition—and submission of JPEG images—was available online for a  nonrefundable registration fee of $35. Artists who wished to submit time-based media (video, film, digital animation) found instructions for entry on the competition Web site. Artists had the option to submit a statement about their work, their particular entry, and/or the circumstances of the creation of the portrait.  Dimensions and medium information were also requested.
The first round of jurying was online. Judges identified the semifinalists, whose works were transported to Washington, D.C., at the Portrait Gallery's expense.  The final selection of winners and other exhibitors were made from those original semifinalist portraits. All works transported to Washington, whether chosen for the exhibition or not, will be returned to the artists at the Portrait Gallery's expense.
The public currently has an opportunity to vote for its favorite work among the finalists through the People's Choice Award.
Please read the detailed rules for this year's competition if you would like further information.

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