Since my girlfriend and I were coming to Washington, DC during Black History Month, I was very happy to hear that the National Portrait Gallery was holding an exhibit of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders "Black List," a series of photographs of some of the most noteworthy African-Americans, who have contributed to our culture in numerous ways.
On the way to this exhibit, we had to pass through the collection of portraits of all our presidents, which is wonderful. Starting with the iconic portraits of George Washington by Stuart and Peale and then John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and all the others, it is really wonderful to see. As I was looking at paintings of some of the presidents we hardly think about, Franklin Pierce and Zachary Taylor, I heard a small boy telling his father what he knew about them - "oh yes, this one was the 11th president, from such and such a year..." - a very sweet moment, and you could tell the boy was both in awe of seeing the portraits of the presidents, and proud of himself or remembering what he had learned in school.
Bridging the gap between those galleries and the ones holding the "Black List" was a series of all paintings and photographs of all the iconic figures in our recent history of civil rights advances - not just people like Dr. King and Rosa Parks who have advanced the cause of African-Americans, but also Native Americans and women who have been instrumental in advancing their causes.
Finally, I arrived at the goal and reason for visiting the Portrait Gallery - the Black List. I have seen the accompanying documentary of part one of this "List" on HBO, so I expected to see photographs of people like Colin Powell and Laurence Fishburne. It was great to see who has been added for the second and third parts of this series. But there are still some glaring omissions from the list - for example, none of Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier are there. The list would have more gravity if more of the truly seminal figures in African-American culture who are living were included.
The National Portrait Gallery's building also contains the Smithsonian Museum of American Art - in fact, the two museums are intertwined. We ventured into the American Art Museum a bit, seeing an Annie Liebovitz exhibit and also taking a look at a series of paintings of Native Americans from the 19th century which is part of the collection. This museum also contains things like Frederick Bartholde's 2-foot high model for the Statue of Liberty.
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