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Past Exhibitions

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Aug 17 2016 – Aug 6 2018

Seattle Art Museum

Third Floor Galleries

The portrait has come to serve an expanded range of purposes in modern times. Going far beyond traditional notions of a portrait as an accurate likeness, portraits have become portals through which to reflect on contemporary issues and emotions. Artists have deployed a variety of stylistic and technological means to advance their objective. In the first half of the 20th century, German artists such as Max Beckmann used expressive colors and theatrical staging in portraiture to consider the anxieties of war, trauma, and displacement following two devastating world wars. At the other end of the spectrum, American pop artists of the 1960s echoed the gleaming surfaces of models and celebrities in their canvases, and the reproductive technologies used by the film and advertising industries became important touchstones.

As portraits of personal, historical, or allegorical significance remain vital to this day, a central concern for many contemporary artists is racial equity and representation. People of color are grossly underrepresented in the tradition of Western portraiture. This gallery features works by artists who seek to correct this imbalance. Whether they feature mythical heroes, imagined figures, or anonymous individuals, these works address urgent questions of our day: who is pictured, who is omitted, and what stories does portraiture tell?

Image: Nat-Shango, Kerry James Marshall, American, b. 1955, acrylic and collage on canvas, 76 x 56 in., Collection of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom, © Kerry James Marshall.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM