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National Portrait Gallery's collection of presidential portraits undergoes renovation
Installation view. Photo: Matailong Du.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Portrait Gallery’s permanent exhibition “America’s Presidents” will undergo extensive renovations and reopen Sept. 22 with the Gilbert Stuart’s “Lansdowne” portrait of President George Washington back on view after 18 months of careful conservation and analysis. In addition to refreshing the physical space of the presidential exhibition (improved graphics, lighting, paint, etc.), the Portrait Gallery is also enhancing the visitor’s experience through new labels, wall texts and the addition of interactive touch screens that will allow people to explore the context of each presidency and access other visual material.

The Portrait Gallery will reinstall its “America’s Presidents” exhibition in four phases beginning in February. After a brief closure from Feb. 26 through March 23, a temporary exhibition will be installed in the west gallery on the second floor. The presidential portraits will remain on view through Sept. 4 before moving back into the newly restored gallery spaces and reopening Sept. 22.

The temporary installation on view (March 24–Sept. 4) will include for the first time a woodburytype portrait of former President Barack Obama by Chuck Close (2013). His official portrait will be added to the museum’s collection when it is completed. In addition, this temporary exhibition will showcase “Hindsight Is Always 20/20” by contemporary artist Luke DuBois. DuBois has generated “word clouds” with words and phrases from the state of the union addresses of 41 presidents ending with George W. Bush. They are presented in order of most-frequent to least-frequent word in the form of an eye chart for each president. The result is a startlingly clear snapshot of the lexicon of each presidency, containing a mix of key words and rhetoric unique to the presidents and their times. The words amplify the story that the museum tells about the presidents by highlighting how the issues of the day became part of Americans’ political dialogue and vocabulary. The installation will allow visitors to marry words with images in a way that is both educational and aesthetically appealing.

“America’s Presidents” is the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House and lies at the heart of the Portrait Gallery’s mission to tell the American story through the individuals who have shaped it. Currently, the exhibition presents an extended display of multiple images of all of the presidents of the United States, including Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of Washington, now on loan from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and two portraits of Washington by Stuart on loan from the National Gallery of Art.

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