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Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Contest Puts Faces to Artists’ Social Concerns


Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Contest Puts Faces to Artists’ Social Concerns

The National Portrait Gallery’s national Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition recently announced its winners. Held every three years, the competition spotlights the latest in contemporary portraiture from across the U.S.

More than 2,600 artists entered the 2019 contest and jurors selected 46 artists as finalists. The finalists sent their work to a warehouse in Washington, DC. There, a blind panel of jurors looked over each piece and selected the award winners.

The finalists’ images capture portraits that tell a wide range of stories, from an immigrant washing dishes at fine dining restaurant to a father carrying his daughter’s pink backpack.

Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said the submissions in this most recent competition have been like none other.

“Portraiture is definitely evolving,” she added. “When it started out, it was really an elitist art form reserved for those who were in the upper echelon of society. But as we of a country are changing, portraiture is changing.”

Portraiture is defined as a representation of an individual. “That can be done in many different media,” said said Taína Caragol, co-curator of “The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today” and the Portrait Gallery’s curator of Latino art and history. “Of course, painting and sculpture, drawing photography, but also video art. This year we even had a performance artist.”

The submitted works always seems to mirror what is happening in society. For example, several themes emerged in this year’s submissions, including stories of migration, the lives of members of the LGBT community, American workers, and those in the military.

“This competition really shows us what artists are doing right now,” Caragol said. “What they’re thinking and how they’re interpreting the long tradition of portraiture.”

Meet the winners

People’s choice awardee

ADÁL’s won the People’s Choice Award for his powerful photograph, Muerto Rico. The portrait shows a masked individual submerged in water. The subject wears a black T-shirt, designed by Bold Destrou, with the message “Muerto Rico” (Dead Rico).

“This is a historic year for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition and the Latinx community,” said Caragol. “The 2019 competition celebrates ADÁL as the second Latinx artist to receive the triennial’s People’s Choice Award, and Hugo Crosthwaite as the first Latinx artist to be jury-selected as the first-prize winner of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition at large. It’s an exciting moment for Latinx artists.”

Alternating between satirical and serious, ADÁL’s photographs and performances address issues of Puerto Rican identity and the island’s political relationship to the United States.

More than 17,000 visitors cast their vote for their favorite artwork through the exhibition’s online webpage or in-person through a kiosk (prior to the museum’s temporary closure due to COVID-19).

“Muerto Rico” by ADÁL, inkjet print, 2017. Collection of the artist. Copyright: ADÁL

First place

Artist Hugo Crosthwaite took the first place prize with his stop-motion drawing animation, A Portrait of Berenice Sarmiento Chávez.

The Portrait Gallery explains that the piece is part of a series of interviews Crosthwaite has with people living in or passing through Tijuana, Mexico.

“Set to the soundtrack of a dissonant guitar and a raspy voice singing in Spanish, this animated video reveals the dreams and experiences of a young woman from Tijuana who seeks to take part in the American Dream. Black ink, gray wash, and white paint—applied by the invisible hand of the artist— take turns to expose Berenice Sarmiento Chávez’s humble background and the threat of violence in her home country that pushed her to immigrate to the United States. The film suggests that the immigration journey is seeded with constant danger, especially for women and children.” 

Second place

Artist Sam Comen’s photograph, Jesus Sera, Dishwasher, took home a second place prize. The Portrait Gallery’s description of the piece says, “Against a forest of kitchen utensils and stainless steel, his gaze directed upwards and bearing a slight smile, Jesus Sera projects dignity and pride. This portrait is part of Sam Comen’s Working America series, in which he examines the experience of American immigrant workers in Los Angeles.

“Comen’s work is rooted in twentieth-century portraits of workers, as exemplified by photographers such as August Sander and Irving Penn. He trains his lens on first- and second-generation American dishwashers, carpenters, shoemakers, bakers, and tailors. His empathetic portraits celebrate the subjects’ diligence, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit.”

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Jesus Sera, Dishwasher – Inkjet print, 2018 – Copyright: Sam Comen

Third place

Two artists tied for third place: Richard Greene and Wayde McIntosh.

Greene was awarded for his photograph, Monroe, LA. The Portrait Gallery says of the image, “Richard Greene captured this picture of teen spirit while passing through a town in Louisiana on a coast-to-coast road trip. A trained classical violinist and bluegrass fiddle master, Greene has been passionate about photography since his teenage years. He identifies expression, innovation, technique, and composition as the pillars of his artistic practice, as both a musician and as a photographer.

McIntosh was awarded for his oil painting, Legacy. The description of McIntosh’s work offers context: “This likeness is of McIntosh’s friend, the painter Jordan Casteel, who is known for her expressive portraits of African American men. As the granddaughter of civil rights leader Whitney Young Jr., Casteel carries on his legacy of asserting the dignity of people of color. McIntosh pays homage to that family continuum in this small painting. The sitter and every object—the photograph of Casteel’s grandfather with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington, the Black Lives Matter issue of Time magazine, and David Hammons’s iconic artwork African American Flag—are symbolically interlinked.”

Hear more of McIntosh’s story here.

Wayde McIntosh’s oil painting of Jordan Casteel, the granddaughter of civil rights leader Whitney Young Jr., won a third place prize.

The jurors commended three works: an HD video by Natalia Garcia Clark, a photograph by Lauren Hare, and another photograph by Adrian Octavius Walker.

You can see the entire works of the nearly 50 finalists on the Portrait Gallery’s website.

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