Woman in 19th century clothes putting white sheets on a series of cots in the Great Hall

Hospital Hymn: Elegy for Lost Soldiers, IDENTIFY: Performance Art as Portraiture, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

IDENTIFY: Performance Art as Portraiture / Martha McDonald

October 17, 2015
Great Hall

Martha McDonald (b. 1964, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) features handcrafted costumes and objects that are activated by the acts of singing, making, and ultimately undoing her handwork as "woman's work." Her performance at the Portrait Gallery was presented in conjunction with the exhibition "Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859–1872."

IDENTIFY pulls back the curtain of time to acknowledge those who are missing from the museum’s historical collections. Wealth, class, race, and gender often determined who could have a portrait made in the 18th and 19th centuries – this performance art series strives to make visible the invisible.  Each artist selected critiques American portraiture and institutional history by making visible a body or bodies that historically have been forgotten.  Dorothy Moss, assistant curator of painting and sculpture, is the curator of IDENTIFY.

Support for the IDENTIFY performance art series has been provided by the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center; an anonymous donor; the Philip and Elizabeth Ryan Fund; the Director's Visionary Fund; the Marc Pachter Fund for Commissioning; Carol and John Boochever; The Skanby + Gould Foundation; and other individual contributors.

  • Martha McDonald thowing a sheet in the air as she covers the cot with it.

    View of "IDENTIFY: Performance Art as Portraiture / Martha McDonald." Photo by Paul Morigi. 

  • Martha McDonald covering a cot with rose petals

    View of "IDENTIFY: Performance Art as Portraiture / Martha McDonald." Photo by Paul Morigi. 

  • View from above of one of the cots covered in s white sheet and covered in rose petals

    View of "IDENTIFY: Performance Art as Portraiture / Martha McDonald." Photo by Paul Morigi. 

  • Artist hugging visiters and viewers after the performance

    View of "IDENTIFY: Performance Art as Portraiture / Martha McDonald." Photo by Paul Morigi.