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The Daily Tar Heel

Outwin exhibit displays portraits in Ackland

The Ackland Art Museum displays a banner showcasing The Outwin exhibit on Monday, Nov. 13.

Brooklyn-based artist Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s portrait, “Anthony Cuts under the Williamsburg Bridge, Morning,” shows a hairdresser who took his craft to the streets during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving the proceeds from his hair cuts to social justice groups that supported the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s mostly to give people hope that they can proceed in conditions that are less than ideal,” Taylor said. "They can persevere in situations that don’t necessarily provide them with everything that they think they need. But they find a way to go forward, to continue on.” 

The piece won first prize in the triennial 2022 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. From Nov. 3 until Jan. 21, 2024, pieces from the competition will be on display at the Ackland Art Museum in the exhibition "The Outwin: American Portraiture Today."

The competition was endowed by Virginia Outwin Boochever in 2006. Boochever was a former docent for the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian who felt the museum would benefit from a portrait competition.  When they're not on display at museums like the Ackland, winning portraits usually stay in the Smithsonian gallery. 

Taína Caragol, director of the competition and co-curator of the "Outwin American Portraiture Today" exhibition, said that Boochever saw the competition as a way to foster connection among contemporary art, national identity and history. 

“It’s a beautiful story because it’s really the impact of one individual, who loved the museum, who loved portraiture as an art form, who saw its potential to reveal humanity to us all,” Caragol said.

Lauren Turner, associate curator for contemporary art and special projects at the Ackland, said that the museum has hosted the 2016 exhibit in the past, and was selected to host the 2022 exhibit this year.

Portraiture as an art form always devotes artistic space to a specific person, but Caragol said they have seen changes in materials and subject matter in the last few editions of the competition.  

Taylor’s piece, for instance, uses the invented style of “marquetry hybrid” – a technique of painting on inlaid work made from thin wood veneers. Other artists utilized unique materials like textiles, sculptures and video in their pieces.   

In the past, Caragol said portraiture was used to celebrate the people who had economic and political power within society. 

“In our contemporary world, portraiture is becoming more and more a place to assert the power of those who have not had it traditionally,” Caragol said. “And that is apparent in this show.” 

Kira Nam Greene, a finalist, said that her piece – “Kyung’s Gift in Pojagi” – is a part of her larger series “Women in Possession of Good Fortune.” The series highlights the achievements of women in creative pursuits.  

The portrait features her friend, artist Kyung Jeon, in a fantasy-esque world meant to reflect Jeon’s artwork. It includes their shared interest in pojagi – a colorful Korean fabric quilting technique.

“Artists as a bunch, we are always seeking recognition and context on how our works fit into a larger context of culture,” Greene said. “So being able to show in a national institution like the National Portrait Gallery and then have a portrait of a Korean-American person, that’s a very important factor in terms of thinking about particularly this cultural moment.” 

Elsa María Meléndez Torres was the winner of the people’s choice award. Her piece “Milk” was created in response to harsh criticism against the Puerto Rican feminist movement.

As a woman and artist, Torres said she found it challenging to produce images that maintain conventional notions of the body with her materials. It required placing herself in a vulnerable space to pose larger societal questions about images of women themselves through materials such as textiles.

Turner said a lot of the works within the exhibition have only been produced within the past three years — echoing what she calls the stresses and celebrations of the recent past.

“The Ackland is open to showing art across time spans and cultures, and that means we’re not necessarily able to focus on just one area – such as American or Contemporary,” Turner said. “So this allows us to give a really wonderful, very contemporary exhibition that’s showing the breadth of American talent operating right now.” 


@dthlifestyle |

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