Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2013

A portrait has the power to stop us in our tracks. In the case of a self-portrait, the self-consciousness captured in concealing and revealing identity is both poignant and exhilarating. As Annie Dillard writes in An American Childhood, “Who could ever tire of this radiant transition, this surfacing to awareness and this deliberate plunging into oblivion—the theater curtain rising and falling?” Portraiture at its best holds us transfixed in the dramatic moment when the artist, subject, and viewer merge in time and space.

For this third exhibition in the series, the National Portrait Gallery held an open competition, asking artists throughout the United States to submit likenesses of people they had directly encountered, either in passing or over an extended period of time. From more than 3,000 entries from every state, a jury of experts chose forty-eight works of art in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, textile, photography, video, and mixed media.

The works in this exhibition reveal that in our media age, where the Facebook “profile picture” is part of our visual landscape, the art of portraiture is thriving and evolving. The artists use portraiture or self-portraiture to explore complex issues of identity while pushing the boundaries of figurative art. Their diversity is demonstrated in the work on view, as well as in the artists’ statements that accompany each portrait. The dazzling variety of media and varied approaches to the exploration of “self” and “other” challenge our preconceived notions of portraiture and expand the limits of our imagination.

The competition and exhibition are made possible by the vision and generosity of Virginia Outwin Boochever.

Click here to see the exhibited portraits >>

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