Head and Shoulders: Smithsonian Acquires Painting by Art Professor
The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC plays a special role in honoring great Americans who have defined our past and shape our future. The collection of portraiture puts faces to the names of people whose achievements in the arts, the sciences, politics, performance, and activism form our national identity and characterize what it means to be an American.
Counted amongst these portraits is Fred, a painting made by Dyson College of Arts and Science Art professor Jane Dickson, which the museum acquired in 2015.
In addition to teaching in Dyson’s art department, Dickson is an artist whose work is included in major museum collections such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Art Institute of Chicago. Locally, Dickson’s Murano glass mosaic works can be seen in the Port Authority 42nd Street and Times Square subway stations.
Who is Fred?
Fred is a hip hop impresario, musician, painter and former Yo MTV Raps VJ, Fab 5 Freddy, né Fred Braithwaite. One may recall that Blondie namechecked Braithwaite in her 1980 rap single, “Rapture”…Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody's fly. More than this, he is was a key figure in the 1980s New York City art scene, a fecund period that produced artists and thinkers like Dickson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jessica Hagedorn, Philip Glass, Fran Lebowitz, Susan Sarandon among many others.
Painted in acrylic on textured vinyl, Dickson made the painting in 1982 while she worked alongside her filmmaker husband Charlie Ahearn and Braithwaite on Wild Style, the groundbreaking film about hip hop.
She earned it.
“We are very proud that our faculty member’s work has been recognized by such a prestigious institution. It’s a well-deserved honor for Jane and her work to be included in the national collection,” says Eve Laramee, chair of the art department. “That students have the opportunity to work and study with Jane is very special.”
The museum’s process for selecting acquisitions is rigorous, involving extensive discussions by researchers, historians, and curators about criteria such as the subject matter, quality of the portrait, cost, and reputation of the portrait’s maker. The formal decision to acquire a portrait is ratified by the National Portrait Gallery Commission.
“I am proud and honored to have sold Fred to the National Portrait Gallery,” says Dickson. “I also believe this acquisition reflects an increased awareness that the nation's portrait gallery needs to present images of diverse American leaders.”