The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington is currently curating an exhibit called “American Cool,” which features 100 photographs of iconic Americans who, according to the institution, “have contributed an original artistic vision to American culture and are symbolic figures of their time.”
Artists like Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecke, Bert Williams, and Willie “the Lion” Smith and writers like Ernest Hemingway and Zora Neale Hurston are included in the “Roots of Cool” category, while Lester Young, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk are among those deemed to be part of the “Birth of the Cool” group.
What were the determining factors in what constitutes “cool” and who has enough of it to be featured in the exhibition? According to Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, “‘American Cool’ is about America’s greatest cultural export—cool—and who embodies it. The show offers an opportunity...
February 12th, 2014