Check Out These Thought-Provoking Additions to the National Portrait Gallery

The museum is showcasing 25 new artworks through next autumn

Memorial to a Marriage, by Patricia Cronin (NPG; Gift of Chuck Close © 2002 Patricia Cronin)

The National Portrait Gallery’s latest acquisitions, whose subjects range from activist actress to glass ceiling-shattering civil servant, prodigious musician to lifesaving medical researcher, once-famous 20th-century magician to now-famous 19th-century lawyer, have just gone on view in Washington, D.C. The assortment—25 objects in all—will remain accessible through November 4 of 2018. Below is a sample of what you can look forward to in the year ahead.

Rita Moreno

(NPG; © 1984 ADÁL)

Seated with elbows on knees in an anonymous, impersonal setting suggestive of a hotel room, Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno turns her eyes to the camera. Not quite smiling, Moreno is composed but seemingly fatigued; her accentuated eyelashes do not conceal the sorrow in her eyes, and her exotically patterned dress, smooth stockings and long fingernails play second fiddle to her arresting gaze.

The black and white image was taken by fellow Puerto Rican ADÁL, a photographer committed to documenting the nuanced lives of Puerto Ricans in answer to long-held stereotypes. There’s no doubting that his work has made an impact. As curator Taína Caragol notes, “A collection of 100 portraits, including this one of Rita Moreno, was published alongside biographic essays on each sitter in The Puerto Rican Experience, edited by Luis Reyes Riviera and Julio Rodríguez, in 1984. A year later, this book became a part of the social studies curriculum in the New York public school system.”

Moreno was an ideal subject for ADÁL. She is perhaps best-remembered for her role as Anita in the film adaptation of the street gang musical West Side Story, which centers on an unlikely romance in the midst of a turf war between whites and Puerto Ricans. Moreno earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work (the film itself was named Best Picture of 1961). Even so, stereotype-driven plot arcs and the caricature-like quality of songs like “America” meant that Moreno could never be fully true to her own lived experience.

This sad reality dogged her in subsequent years. Stuck in typecasting hell, Moreno soon decided to duck out of Hollywood—she was largely absent from movies for the remainder of the 1960s. And though she eventually reentered the scene, pioneering as a Puerto Rican actress while also attempting to stay true to herself and her background remained an exhausting tightrope walk. It is this weariness that ADÁL so poignantly captures in his portrait.

About Ryan P. Smith
Ryan P. Smith

Ryan graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Science, Technology & Society and now writes for both Smithsonian Magazine and the World Bank's Connect4Climate division. He is also a published crossword constructor and a voracious consumer of movies and video games.

Read more from this author

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus