Portraiture Competition Winners Announced by National Portrait Gallery (photos)

“To see people as they are, as they imagine themselves, as they wish to be. To be witness, the friend, the judge, the accomplice. To record their moment,” said Annie Liebovwitz, when asked how she sees her job as a portrait artist.

The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery announced the winners of the sixth national Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition on April 29.

The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition takes place every three years and is open to residents of the continental United States and territories (Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa). The competition and exhibition are made possible by the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition Endowment, which was established by Virginia Outwin Boochever, a longtime docent at the National Portrait Gallery. The endowment is sustained by her family.

It would seem appropriate that the theme of the first-prize-winning entry should be Covid-19.

“It’s a portrait that depicts well the months when the lockdown came,” said the competition’s director and co-curator of the exhibition Taína Caragol. Top honors went to Alison Elizabeth Taylor of Brooklyn for her “Anthony Cuts under the Williamsburg Bridge, Morning” depicting Brooklyn, New York-based hair groomer Anthony Payne whom she encountered during a walk in her neighborhood. With his workplace shuttered as a result of the pandemic, Payne was offering donation-based haircuts to support Black Lives Matter, and Taylor was struck by the way he embodied perseverance and solidarity. She made drawings of him from life and used those, along with photographs, to develop the portrait’s composition. 

Anthony Cuts under the Williamsburg Bridge, Morning. Artist: Alison Elizabeth Taylor.

Every work in the exhibition has a story to tell. Taylor was just “wandering around and I happened upon Anthony Payne and he was cutting hair outside under Williamsburg Bridge. I got to know him…. Apparently his salon had been shuttered and he needed to earn a living. And he also wanted to raise money for social justice causes. This is the summer of 2020. So he decided that he would do a haircut on the sidewalk in front of his apartment… and it became this big symbol in our neighborhood where many people looked at his example of resilience and resourcefulness and the fact that he would continue on doing his work and also sort of spreading beauty and care throughout the community.”

Taylor’s “Anthony Cuts under the Williamsburg Bridge, Morning” is one of 42 portraits on display as part of “The Outwin 2022: American Portraiture Today” exhibit on view in the west gallery on the second floor of the Portrait Gallery, April 30 through Feb. 26, 2023. The works were chosen through blind judging from  2774 open-call entries.

As the grand prize winner, Taylor will receive $25,000 and a commission to create a portrait of a living individual for the museum’s permanent collection. Said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, “Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s winning portrait is an especially powerful example of how people turned everyday tasks into shared moments of resilience and hope that made us stronger as a community.”

Second prize was awarded to Tom Jones of Madison, Wisconsin, who evoked his ancestors in a photograph embellished with beads, rhinestones and shells titled “Elizah Leonard.” The artist, himself of Native American heritage, recalled his childhood memories when his mother introduced him to a medicine man “and they had turned off all the lights in the room and they started singing. The women did. And they were asking the spirits to come in. And all of a sudden there were these white orbs just floating around the room. And I was only about six or seven at that time.” His role as an artist is “being able to make my people visible… We [his tribe] were removed seven times by the U.S. government from Wisconsin, and we came back and we kept coming back. And so this is showing our resilience as a people and showing them we’re still here.”

Third prize was awarded to Pao Houa Her of Blaine, Minnesota, for her photograph featuring a man of Hmong descent taken at a senior daycare center where her mother worked and where she sometimes volunteered to take photographs of those who long ago had left their native land. “They came to America and America is not their home. And so there’s this desire to go back” to the vanished time that predated the Vietnam War.

Tom Jones explains his award winning portrait to NPG Director Kim Sajet. Photo by Jeff Malet.


Third place finisher Pao Houa Her (left) and 1st prize winner Alison Elizabeth Taylor pose in front of Her’s work featuring a man of Hmong descent.  Photo by Jeff Malet.

One work in the exhibition stands out for its lack of an actual human form. Taína Caragol described “Dad, at Manmade Pond” by artist David Hilliard. “This is a conceptual portrait. Of course, very often we think of portraiture as a representation of someone. And very often people think it needs to have a the face of someone. But you’re not necessarily right… something we like to do with this competition is also to push the boundaries of portraiture… to expand ideas of portraiture [and] what constitutes a portrait… This is really a representation of his father. His father is there where you might not see his body, but his ashes are there. And that’s a place he loved… It’s by an artist whose name is David Hilliard, who shared a love of photography with his father. They worked together for many years in an art series called The Dad Series. So David Hilliard photographed his dad in many different places for over a decade. And they had even planned a final photograph the moment he would die because he was he had been ill for some time. That final photograph of the dad was going to appear in his casket. However, unexpectedly, Covid took him away and he had to be cremated…. And so David had to reimagine how to make that final portrait and he decided to place his ashes in this urn in the shape of a casket and to place them to take them to seven different places his father cherished. And this photograph, which is called ‘Dad at Manmade Pond,’ is of the ashes of his daddy. That lovely table almost looks like an altar in the pond where his dad taught him and his brother how to swim, how to row. So, it’s a very special place for him and his dad. And he photographed him there in unity with nature.”

Not all portraits feature a face. Dad, at Manmade Pond. Inkjet prints by artist David Hilliard.

One exhibiting artist will win a $500 People’s Choice Award to be announced in late October. Visitors will be able to cast a vote for their favorite finalists online.

Covid, as mentioned, was an underlying subject of several of the exhibited works. Demands for social justice, personal isolation, familial ties, community support, love and loss were other common themes. “There’s a lot of empathy in this show. There’s a lot of sadness in this exhibition. There’s also a great deal of joy,” said museum director Sajet in her introductory remarks.

The National Portrait Gallery has scheduled two live performances in connection with the exhibition:

On May 17, 18 and 19 at 6 p.m. in the courtyard, Dana Tai Soon Burgess, the first choreographer-in-residence at a Smithsonian museum, will premiere a performance that addresses immigration, specifically along the Mexico-U.S. border inspired by “Refugees Crossing The Border Wall into South Texas,” by Artist: Rigoberto A. Gonzalez. Said Burgess, “The Rigoberto painting is the inspiration for the choreography and connected my feelings of empathy for asylum seekers and the situation at the Southern border. I love the Baroque quality of the work which is at once spiritual and emotionally wrought with turmoil from a journey to find safety for the archetype of family. The painting’s tableau has inspired me to work multiple tableau’s and Latin American mythologies into the dance El Muro/The Wall.”

Choreographer-in-residence Dana Tai Soon Burgess and the portrait that inspired his upcoming performance. Photo by Jeff Malet.

On Sept. 10, Washington, D.C.-based artist Holly Bass will premiere a seven-hour live performance titled “American Woman” as a complement to her video work in the exhibition which portrays the under-recognized contributions of Black women’s labor in American society. The performance will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the museum’s historic Great Hall located on the third floor.

“The Outwin 2022: American Portraiture Today” was co-curated by the competition’s director Taína Caragol, curator of painting, sculpture, and Latinx art and history, and Leslie Ureña, curator of photographs.

An illustrated catalog featuring all 42 portraits will be available for purchase at the museum store or online.

Click on the photo icons below to preview many of the winning images from the 2022 Outwin Competition. 




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