Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now at National Portrait Gallery, May 11, 2018 – March 24, 2019

“’Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now’ is the first major museum exhibition to explore the art form of cut-paper profiles in terms of their rich historical roots and powerful contemporary presence. Well before the advent of photography in 1839, silhouettes democratized portraiture. Offering virtually instantaneous likenesses of everyone from presidents to those who were enslaved, silhouettes cost far less than oil paintings and could be made with inexpensive materials. Museums have paid little attention to the art form, but ‘Black Out’ aims to broaden the traditional American art canon by placing silhouettes—and their subjects—at the forefront. 

The exhibition, which primarily features works on paper, will also bring together sculptures, prints, media art and mixed-media installations. Ranging in scale from 3 inches to nearly 40 feet, and featuring art from 1796 to today, the exhibition presents around 50 unique objects.” — National Portrait Gallery

“With both historical and contemporary explorations into the form of silhouette, ‘Black Out’ reveals new pathways between past and present, particularly with regard to how we can reassess notions of race, power, individualism and, even, the digital self,” Naeem said. “‘Black Out’ unpacks the art of silhouettes as a potent art form, revealing the paradoxes of a country roiling with ideals of freedom and the trauma of slavery in the 1800s and the messiness of our modern lives.”

Moses Williams, Cutter of Profiles by Raphaelle Peale, by Moses Williams. Cut paper and ink on paper, c. 1803. The Library Company of Philadelphia

Chin Sung by Auguste Edouart. Lithograph and cut paper on paper, 1841. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.

John Quincy Adams by Auguste Edouart. Lithograph, chalk and cut paper on paper, 1841. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.

Euphrasie Borghese by Auguste Edouart. Lithograph and cut paper on paper, 1841. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.

Robert H. Collyer and Monsieur De Bonneville by Auguste Edouart. Ink wash, chalk and cut paper on paper, 1842. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.

Joaquin Cesar de Figaniere e Morao and Danel J. Desmond by Auguste Edouart. Ink wash and cut paper on paper, 1843. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.

Catharine Williams and William Mead by Auguste Edouart. Ink wash, chalk and cut paper on paper, 1843. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.

Laura Dewey Bridgman by Auguste Edouart. Ink, chalk and cut paper on paper, 1843. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.

Oliver Caswell by Auguste Edouart. Lithograph, chalk and cut paper on paper, 1843. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.

Thomas Sully by Auguste Edouart. Ink, chalk and cut paper on paper, 1843. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.

Mary Phelps Austin Holley by Auguste Edouart. Ink, chalk and cut paper on paper, 1844. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr.

Maibaum by Kristi Malakoff. Paper and foam core, 2009. Photo: Kristi Malakoff

Profile by Kumi Yamashita. Wood, single light source, and cast shadow, 1994. Photo: Ryo Sekimura

Chair by Kumi Yamashita. Wood, single light source, and cast shadow, 2015. Photo: Hiroshi Noguchi

Origami by Kumi Yamashita. Japanese paper, single light source, and cast shadow

Auntie Walker’s Wall Sampler for Civilians by Kara Walker. Cut paper on wall. 2013 © Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Installation view: “We at the Camden Arts Centre are Exceedingly Proud to present an Exhibition of Capable Artworks by the Notable Hand of the Celebrated American, Kara Elizabeth Walker, Negress.” Camden Arts Centre, London, 2013. Photo: Angus Mill Photography.

Auntie Walker’s Wall Sampler for Savages by Kara Walker. Cut paper on wall, 2013 © Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Installation view: “We at the Camden Arts Centre are Exceedingly Proud to present an Exhibition of Capable Artworks by the Notable Hand of the Celebrated American, Kara Elizabeth Walker, Negress.” Camden Arts Centre, London, 2013. Photo: Angus Mill Photography.

Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching by Kara Walker. Laser cut steel and paint, 2006 © Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Photo: Luciano Fileti

Entangled by Camille Utterback. Interactive installation (depth camera, custom software, computer, projection, lighting), 2018

“Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now” is curated by Asma Naeem, the Portrait Gallery’s curator of prints, drawings and media arts.

Images courtesy National Portrait Gallery.