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Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction

National Portrait Gallery

April 18, 2014–January 11, 2015

Me Without Mirrors (1974)

Me Without Mirrors (1974)
Oil on canvas
52h x 68w in (132.1h x 172.7w cm)

Press Release

Joan Semmel included in Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction will feature mid-20th 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 Chuck Close recalled that during this time, “the dumbest, most moribund, out-of-date, and shopworn of possible things you could do was to make a portrait.”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 50 paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture from approximately 1945 to 1975, “Face Value” will highlight 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.