Monday, February 11, 2008

"Smithsonian Recognizes Hip-Hop"

from - by Michael Tedder

Nearly 30 years after hip-hop first exploded onto the national music scene with "Rapper's Delight," the Smithsonian Exhibition has made the art form the subject of a new National Portrait Gallery showcase. The exhibit, RECOGNIZE! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture, opened Friday and will run through October 26, featuring a mix of photography, painting, video portraits and graffiti murals.

RECOGNIZE! is the third in a series called Portraiture Now, which focuses on modern-day pieces. "We want to hold up a mirror to our audience," says Frank Goodyear, the Smithsonian's assistant curator of photography, "by showing portraits of living subjects by living artists."

Among the highlights is a portrait of LL Cool J by New York artist Kehinde Wiley. It is based on a famous portrait of oilman John D. Rockefeller and was first commissioned by VH1 for their 2005 Hip Hop Honors award program. Wiley also contributed paintings of Ice T and Big Daddy Kane. Other notable works include photographs of Common and Mos Def by New Mexico artist David Scheinbaum and video-based portraits by University of Maryland teacher Jefferson Pinder. Artists Tim Conlon and Dave Hupp contributed four large 1980s-style graffiti murals that illustrate graffiti's importance to the development of hip-hop culture.

The exhibition opened on Friday, and already has been a big hit for the museum. "I don't want to hype it, but it's been unbelievable," says Goodyear. In particular, he says a Saturday talk with Scheinbaum was so popular that "you couldn't pack one more person into the gallery." Family days and possible performances are being planned for the exhibit, although no information has been released as of yet.

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