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First Look: ‘Portraiture Now’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

22 August 2014

Theatricality, exaggeration and invention characterise the work of the six participating artists in the National Portrait Gallery’s new display. Part of an ongoing series of exhibitions looking at the the state of ‘Portraiture Now’, this installations features the work of artists of a Latino background and looks specifically at how their identities are constructed and change. We asked the curator, Taína Caragol, about the show.

Click here for a gallery of highlights…

Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition?

‘Portraiture Now: Staging the Self’ is the ninth of the Portraiture Now series, which showcases the vitality of portraiture in contemporary art. The exhibition is about the construction of individuality in the genre of portraiture, the fluid nature of identity, its theatrical aspect, and the malleability of portraiture as a vehicle to convey that identity.

What makes this a distinctive show?

What makes this show distinctive is the way that the artists use theatricality – exaggeration, the creation of fictional characters, or the staging of narratives remembered or invented – to turn the portrait into a map for finding themselves and their subjects.

How did you come to curate this exhibition?

The idea of an exhibition highlighting the work of Latino artists was already in the air when I was hired last April. As the new and first Curator of Latino Art and History at NPG, leading the curatorial team became my first project.

'Piscina' (2011), Rachelle Mozman. Courtesy the artist

What is likely to be the highlight of the exhibition?

All six of the artists in the show are all very strong. Their works are striking for different reasons. I will let the audience decide on that.

And what’s been the most exciting personal discovery for you?

Portraiture Now always features artwork that has been made in the last 10 years. I was familiar with the work of artists such as María Martínez-Cañas, and David Antonio Cruz, for example, but it has been great to look at their recent production and at the ways they are engaging portraiture. It has been very exciting to work with artists of great expressive power, such as Michael Vasquez, Rachelle Mozman, Carlee Fernandez, and Karen Miranda Rivadeneira.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in preparing this exhibition?

The greatest challenge was the timeframe. Finishing up studio visits, rounding up the list of artists and artworks, deciding on the theme of the exhibition, all in a few months was challenging. It was great to do the project collaboratively with other curators.

How are you using the gallery space? What challenges will the hang/installation pose?

The space almost sets the format of this exhibition series. The artists have their own individual galleries, which allow us to show a small body of work by each. The works by David Antonio Cruz posed a challenge of transportation, because they are hybrids between painting and assemblages, with many fragile elements attached to them. Michael Vasquez’s portraits of his friends are monumental, and for a moment we were unsure whether they would fit through the door

‘Portraiture Now: Staging the Self’ is at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington from 22 August–12 April 2015.

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