The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery will honor trailblazing feminist art historian Linda Nochlin (1931-2017) with the 1997 portrait Orange Disaster (Linda Nochlin) by Deborah Kass. The silkscreen and acrylic painting will be displayed on the museum's first-floor presentation wall Wednesday, Feb. 26, in advance of Women's History Month, and will remain on view through fall 2021. Dorothy Moss, curator of painting and sculpture and coordinating curator of the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, helped the museum acquire the work from the artist in 2019.
Nochlin transformed the study of art history. Her landmark essay "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" (1971) challenged not only the assumptions behind the title question but also decades of accepted methodology in research and teaching. She revealed how, for centuries, institutional and societal structures had denied women artists opportunities for education, achievement and success, regardless of their abilities. Skeptical about approaches that merely involved unearthing forgotten examples of women artists, Nochlin argued forcefully that art historians should address the ways institutions, society and culture had and continued to limit women's participation in the art world. Nochlin's essay and subsequent writings redefined scholarship and bolstered the developing field of feminist studies.
When feminist artist Kass delivered a lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts in 1996, Nochlin was in the audience. Kass seized the opportunity to tell Nochlin that she considered her a hero and asked to paint her portrait. For "Orange Disaster (Linda Nochlin)," Kass reinvented Andy Warhol's "Orange Car Crash" (1963) from the series "Death and Disaster." Nochlin sat for multiple photographs in the artist's studio, which the artist screen printed onto the large-scale canvas. Completed in 1997, Kass' portrait celebrates Nochlin as an iconoclast who shattered the foundations of traditional art history.