Thursday, May 01, 2008

Recognize!: Hip Hop Gets (some of) Its Due

Getting to the National Portrait Gallery to see Recognize! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture has been on my to-do list for a while now. The exhibit ends in October, so of course I've been telling myself that I have plenty of time to see it. This is true, but I hate to have to try and rush there on the last day because I kept waiting. I was there for the final weekend of the Edward Hopper exhibit at National Gallery of Art. The crowds made it hard to enjoy, but I just went for a second look because I'd already visited the exhibit when it wasn't elbow-to-elbow.

But I digress...back to the Hip Hop exhibit.It combined painting, photos, graffiti and the poetry of Nikki Giovanni. It sounds like a lot, but they managed to put it together so it makes sense and it does not take a long time to go through the exhibit.

Some of the paintings (done by Kehinde Wiley) were commissioned for VH1's Hip Hop Honors show and I have to say the paintings are what impressed me most. I was glad to see them being "re-purposed" and displayed in a venue like the Smithsonian. Rap artists were depicted in grand portraits that drew inspiration from older artwork. Ice T was shown in a pose similar to one that Napoleon struck in a portrait and LL Cool J chose to be portrayed in a style taken from a painting of Rockefeller. The painter gave the artists their own crests.

I read about some grumblings about the propriety of including an exhibit showing rap artists at the National Portrait Gallery, and that is to be expected. I'll stop here to allude to my fellow blogger Mary at StellarSelf. She admitted that she avoided the Portrait Gallery because it seemed like it would be boring and she was convinced to go after the museum let Stephen Colbert display his portrait there.

To stay alive and keep going, museums have to make an effort to attract new audiences. The Colbert portrait brought in tons of irregular museum-goers. (I know because they were all crowding near the bathrooms (where Colbert's portrait was placed) with cell phone cameras trying to capture their museum moment with Colbert.) After being drawn in by Colbert or LL Cool J, someone who ordinarily wouldn't go to a museum may wander a little and find more to their liking.

If you're in DC, go see it! It's at the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro stop. If you're not in DC, go to the exhibit website, and check it out. If you're in DC and can't be bothered to go, then you too have my permission to visit the exhibit website.

Special thanks to Mary for letting me "borrow" the picture she took of the LL Cool J portrait in the exhibit guidebook. Good idea. Since I didn't think of it, I am glad to know someone who did.


stellarself said...

I can't say enough good things about this exhibit, as well as the museum. If I get motivated, I'll probably visit again before October, especially if I have out-of-town visitors to impress.

Yusef said...

I agree with your comment (yes I'm suprised by that too) about museums having to stay "current" to attract visitors. I mean ya respect to my man Leo D and his 500 year old smiling chica, but been there, done that, and not really interested in seeing it again. I like musuems that have something new and cutting edge, to keep things interesting. My favorite art museum (favorite being the only one I can stand to be in for more than 10 mins) is the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, for that very reason.