National Portrait Gallery- “Dark Fields of the Republic” and “The Celebrity Gaze”

By Sara Bastian

I recently took part in some finer things and paid a visit to the National Portrait Gallery (and I like to think I became a little more cultured). At the museum, I got the lowdown on two of its temporary exhibits – “Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872” and “Eye Pop: The Celebrity Gaze.” Both exhibits brought forth a profound set of reactions to their audience, and I highly recommend stopping by these expositions before they conclude.

“Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872”:

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Making its debut on September 18, 2015 and remaining on display until March 13, 2016, this exhibition features the photographs of Scottish-born Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) during one of the darkest times of American history – the bloodiest war America has ever braved – the Civil War. The centrality of Gardner’s career materialized during the country’s crisis of Union versus Confederate, brother against brother. Positioned in Washington D.C., Gardner captured transitioning, defining moments of the war – ranging from President Lincoln’s election to soldiers departing for war. The eyes behind the lens, Gardner was appointed to the front lines and witnessed too many bloody battles. Most are presented in this gallery and were described as encompassing a “terrible distinctness” by the New York Times. Much of his work is miscredited to another photographer of his time, Mathew Brady, and this exhibition properly pays tribute to his significant contribution to the commemoration of the fallen.

Perfectly grasping the gravity of this era, the dark green gallery and six burgundy painted side rooms mirror the common dismal, heavy sentiment the memory of the Civil War brings to mind. As 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, the opening of this exposition successfully honors the conclusion of this horribly tragic landmark in our nation’s history. His most famous piece, a photograph of Lincoln just weeks before his assassination known as the “cracked plate” portrait, is also on display.

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