Visit the Exhibition

“Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction” features mid-twentieth century artists who were reinventing portraiture at a moment when most agreed that figuration was dead as a progressive art form. Chuck Close recalled that during this time, “the dumbest, most moribund, out-of-date, and shopworn of possible things you could do was to make a portrait.” And yet, with startling freshness and a touch of defiance, a group of young artists demonstrated the value of exploring the face and figure.

With more than fifty paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture from approximately 1945 to 1975, “Face Value” highlights the innovations of American portraiture hiding behind the vogue for abstraction. Artists such as Alice Neel, Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Beauford Delaney, Alex Katz, Romare Bearden, Fairfield Porter, Jamie Wyeth, and Andy Warhol, along with lesser-known artists, pushed the boundaries of portrait traditions. Inspired by the theories and ambitions of the Abstract Expressionists and keenly attuned to the themes of their own turbulent times, they reinterpreted human portrayal, reinventing portraiture for the next generation.

The curators for this exhibition are Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings Wendy Wick Reaves, Chief Curator Brandon Fortune and Senior Historian David C. Ward.

The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, tells the stories of America through the individuals who have shaped U.S. culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts, and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists who speak American history.

Location: The National Portrait Gallery is conveniently located at Eighth and F Streets, NW, in Washington D.C., above the Gallery Place–Chinatown Metrorail station (red, yellow, and green lines).

Museum Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily. Closed December 25.

Admission: FREE

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

April 18, 2014
through January 11, 2015


Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of AbstractionA groundbreaking reassessment of the reinvention of portraiture in America between 1945 and 1975.
Order the catalogue →