What constitutes a portrait? Must a portrait represent a specific person? Is a portrait always based in reality? How does portraiture relate to biography? What are portraiture’s limitations? These are just some of the questions that the National Portrait Gallery considers as it works to elevate and expand the parameters of the genre. It is up to artists—emerging and established—to come up with the answers.

For the fifth triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery invites artists across the United States to broaden the definition of portraiture through submissions in all visual arts media including but not restricted to painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, printmaking, textiles, video, performance, and digital or time-based media. The resulting exhibition, opening in November 2019, will celebrate the portrait’s capacity to reveal facets of its subject’s identity. Whether realist or allegorical, participative or activist, intimate or documentary, each of the selected artworks will underscore the enduring relevance of portraiture in contemporary life.

In the past, the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition has solicited products of direct encounters between artists and sitters. For the upcoming 2019 installment, however, the Portrait Gallery also welcomes indirect encounters, such as portraits that employ appropriated or readymade imagery as a means of responding to history. The competition also seeks conceptual portraits that utilize archival research to challenge and engage the social and political landscape of our time.

The competition is named for Virginia Outwin Boochever (1920–2005), a former Portrait Gallery volunteer whose generous gift has endowed this program.