The 2012 Edition of American Pictures

Alli Jessing, Joint Programs Coordinator for the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, fills us in on our upcoming lecture series, American Pictures.

American Pictures Speakers

Speakers at this year’s American Pictures lecture series (clockwise from upper left): James McBride (photo courtesy of the author), Maira Kalman (photo by Rick Meyerowitz), Tony Horwitz (photo by Randi Baird), and Edmund Morris (photo by Leslie Lillien Levy).

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery will be putting on the fourth annual American Pictures lecture series, a collaboration with Washington College. American Pictures presents an interesting approach to discussing art and portraiture. The series pairs an original piece of American art with distinguished authors, journalists, historians, artists, and musicians. Each speaker focuses on one image from American culture, and explores its meaning and influence on the American identity.

The 2012 series will begin on Saturday, March 24, with Maira Kalman, who will discuss Diane Arbus’s photograph Untitled (8) (1970-71). Untitled (8) is a strange and haunting photograph of five adults in Halloween costumes. Kalman is a renowned illustrator and contributor to The New Yorker, and The New York Times. Maira Kalman also writes and illustrates books for children and adults, including Ooh-la-la (Max in Love), What Pete Ate from A to Z, and FIREBOAT: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey. She also recently illustrated Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style.

The series continues on Saturday, April 7, when Tony Horwitz will examine Ole Peter Hansen Balling’s painting, John Brown (1872). The portrait of Brown is currently on exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, which will give visitors the opportunity to view the original following the talk. Tony Horwitz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, travel writer, and historian. Horwitz has written five best selling books, which include Confederates in the Attic, and Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War.

The third installment will take place on Saturday, April 21, when Edmund Morris will speak about a short video sequence, Ronald Reagan at Bergen-Belsen (NBC television sequence, 1985), which inspired his bestselling biography, Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. Edmund Morris is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and is best known for his three volumes on the life of Theodore Roosevelt. Edmund Morris has also written for publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Harper’s Magazine.

The series will conclude on Saturday, May 12, when James McBride will examine Julian Wasser’s photograph, Singer James Brown during a Performance at the Shrine (1969). James McBride is a memoirist, novelist, screenwriter, and jazz/R&B saxophonist. McBride’s memoir, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, was a New York Times bestseller. McBride has also written for The Boston Globe, People, and The Washington Post. In addition to writing, James McBride tours with his own jazz/R&B band and composes songs for other artists.

Tickets for each lecture are free and are distributed on a first come first served basis. They will be available in the museums’s G Street Lobby 30 minutes before the program begins. No advance reservations are required. Each lecture begins at 2 p.m. and will take place in the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium. The museums are located at Eighth and G Streets NW, Washington, D.C. Following the lecture, the speakers will be available for book signings in the gift shop.

The American Pictures Distinguished Lecture is made possible through support from the Starr Foundation, the Hodson Trust, and other generous donors.

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