Participatory Performance at the National Portrait Gallery

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“Sonic Blossom” To Offer Visitors the Gift of Song This April

Next month, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will present the critically acclaimed performance piece “Sonic Blossom” by artist Lee Mingwei as part of the museum’s 50th anniversary celebrations. The participatory artwork, the latest iteration of the museum’s “IDENTIFY” series, will provide visitors with the chance to receive “the gift of song” in the Portrait Gallery’s Great Hall. A professional singer, roaming the galleries in a custom-designed gown, will approach individual museumgoers and offer to share one of five lieder (songs) by Franz Schubert. This is the first time Lee’s work will be presented in Washington, D.C. Performances will take place from April 5 to April 29, Thursdays through Sundays (from noon to 4 p.m.). Media are invited to view, photograph and film the inaugural performance during a special media open house Thursday, April 5, at noon.

Lee developed the idea for “Sonic Blossom” while taking care of his mother who was recovering from surgery. Inspired by the fact that they both found solace in listening to Schubert’s art songs, he thought of “gifting” the lied to visitors as a way to provide them with a moment of catharsis, joy and connection.

“Sonic Blossom” was originally commissioned in 2013 for the inauguration of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in South Korea. Since then, the work has toured worldwide to Auckland, New Zealand; Boston; Frankfurt, Germany; Montreal; New York; Seoul, South Korea; Singapore; Sydney; Taipei, Taiwan; and Tokyo. This is the first time “Sonic Blossom”—or any work by Lee—will be exhibited in Washington, D.C. “Sonic Blossom” will be performed at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in October 2018 following its presentation at the National Portrait Gallery.  

Lee (b. Taiwan, 1964), currently based in New York and Paris, received a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University in 1997. His art has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Auckland Art Gallery; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art; the Taipei Fine Arts Museum; the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others. He has participated in numerous biennials, including those held in Venice, Italy; Lyon, France; Liverpool, England; Taipei, Taiwan; and Sydney, and at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has also participated in several Asia Pacific Triennials.

Lee joins an impressive roster of artists featured in the Portrait Gallery’s “IDENTIFY” series, which has been promoting the intersection between portraiture and performance since 2015. Previous “IDENTIFY” artists have included María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Sandy Huckleberry, James Luna, J.J. McCracken, Martha McDonald, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, Sheldon Scott and WILMER WILSON IV.

“IDENTIFY” focuses attention on activism, visibility and experimentation through portrayal. It is organized by Dorothy Moss, Portrait Gallery’s curator of painting and sculpture and this presentation of “Sonic Blossom” has been curated by Leslie Ureña, associate curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists, whose lives tell the American story.

The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at, , Instagram, , YouTube and the museum’s blog.

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Concetta Duncan 

(202) 633-9989

Marielba Alvarez 

(202) 633-2585

Related photos: 

Sonic Blossom

Anita Kan

Sonic Blossom

2013 - present

Ongoing participatory performance installation with chair, music stand, costume, and spontaneous song

Installation view at “Lee Mingwei: Sonic Blossom,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2015

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