Saturday, November 9, 2013

Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2013

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through February 23, 2014

This is the third Outwin Boochever competition, and the second display of winners that I've seen.  Over 3,000 entries were submitted to this open competition.  You can see the 48 finalists now at the Portrait Gallery, and I can't urge you strongly enough to do so.

Since I started working in the Penn Quarter and have been able to go to the Mall on my lunch hour, I've probably seen between 200 and 300 exhibits.  Very rarely do I think that each piece in a show was wonderful, interesting or really eye-catching.  This was one of those times.

The first piece I saw when I entered the show was what looked like a picture of a little mad person.  Imagine my surprise to discover that it was a self-portrait!  I wondered if the artist really looks like this or if this is just how she thinks she looks.  I looked her up, and it turns out she's a completely normal looking person - not sure if that's good or bad.  Another self-portrait I can describe only as ruthless.  It's the torso of the artist, with every wrinkle and lump and layer of fat on full display.  The wall notes (another great thing about this display is that there's an artist statement accompanying each piece) indicate that the artist feels her stomach shows a life well lived.  My immediate reaction was to disagree with that idea, but then I thought, "who am I to insist that the only well-lived lives are those that end with beautiful flat stomachs?"  Still, not a piece I'd want hanging in my living room...

The piece pictured here is of the artist's niece and would be lovely as a photograph.  It's actually one unbroken black thread strung over numerous brads.  It took me a moment to really understand what that was - the artist had put an endless number of brads on a wooden panel, then strung a thread (unbroken, mind you) over them to copy a photograph of her niece.  The talent, the dedication - awe-inspiring.

To choose a favorite out of this amazing group was impossible.  I would happily go back and look at each piece again.  The layout of the show is excellent also.  It's in a large space, so there's plenty of room for each work to stand on its own (no salon style exhibit here!).  There are also some painted backgrounds - the little mad person who "welcomes" you to the show is on a yellow wall.  Kudos to those who set up this show, for doing such a fine job with the display.

Verdict: Run, don't walk, to see this excellent show. 

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