Columns at museum's entrance

Celebrating 50 Years: Sonic Blossom

Leslie Ureña
March 13, 2018
A photograph of a woman singing while wearing a beautiful robe
Sonic Blossom / 2013-Present / Ongoing participatory perfomrance installation with chair, music stand, costume, and spontaneous singing / Installation view at "Lee Mingwei: Sonic Blossom" / The Metropolitan Museum of Art / New York / 2015 /Photo by Anita Kan

In 2018, the National Portrait Gallery is celebrating 50 eye-opening years of defining the nation’s history through portraiture. The celebration continues this April with Sonic Blossom (2013–present) a critically acclaimed, participatory performance conceived by New York- and Paris-based artist Lee Mingwei.

In Sonic Blossom a singer wearing a custom-designed gown will approach museumgoers with the question “May I give you the gift of song?” Upon accepting the gift, visitors will move to the Great Hall to hear a performance of one of five lieder by Franz Schubert. Lee developed the idea for this project while caring for his mother, who was recovering from surgery. Inspired by the solace they both found while listening to Schubert’s art songs, he thought of offering visitors the “gift” of the lied as a way to provide them with a moment of catharsis, joy and connection.

Sonic Blossom was originally commissioned in 2013 for the inauguration of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in South Korea. Since then, the work has toured worldwide to Auckland, New Zealand; Boston; Frankfurt, Germany; Montreal; New York; Seoul, South Korea; Singapore; Sydney; Taipei, Taiwan; and Tokyo. This is the first time Sonic Blossom—or any work by Lee—will be exhibited in Washington, D.C. Sonic Blossom will be performed at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in October 2018 following its presentation at the National Portrait Gallery.      

Lee (b. Taiwan, 1964) received a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University in 1997. His art has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Auckland Art Gallery; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art; the Taipei Fine Arts Museum; the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others. He has participated in numerous biennials, including those held in Venice, Italy; Lyon, France; Liverpool, England; Taipei, Taiwan; and Sydney, and at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has also participated in several Asia Pacific Triennials.

Lee joins an impressive roster of artists featured in the Portrait Gallery’s IDENTIFY series, which since 2015 has been focusing attention on activism, visibility and experimentation through portrayal. Previous IDENTIFY artists have included María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Sandy Huckleberry, James Luna, J.J. McCracken, Martha McDonald, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, Sheldon Scott and WILMER WILSON IV.

Performances will take place from April 5 to April 29, Thursdays through Sundays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., in the historic Great Hall. We look forward to seeing you there.

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