National Portrait Gallery Presents Block by Block: Naming Washington

By Editorial Team on July 26, 2021
Credit: “Malcolm X” by an unidentified photographer, halftone poster, 1967 National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
On View: July 30 – January 16, 2023

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will explore the namesakes of Washington, D.C.’s streets, avenues, neighborhoods and other public spaces in the new exhibition Block by Block: Naming Washington. Featuring reproductions of 16 portraits, drawn mostly from the museum’s collection, the exhibition will present the faces and biographies behind some of the city’s most familiar locations, introducing visitors to those whose names are part of the nation’s capital. Block by Block, curated by the National Portrait Gallery’s curator of photographs, Leslie Ureña, will be on view in the museum’s second-floor Riley Gallery July 30 to Jan. 16, 2023.

“The naming of streets and places creates a living history, connecting past to present,” Ureña said. “There is little doubt that naming a public space after a historical figure, in the nation’s capital no less, grants a degree of importance to those whose names have been chosen and, at times, evokes a reckoning with some of those eponyms and the legacies they leave behind. I hope ‘Block by Block’ prompts visitors to not only see D.C. a little differently, but also to approach the streets and spaces in their own communities with a renewed sense of curiosity.”

Drivers travel on the Clara Barton Parkway, sometimes passing by the American Red Cross founder’s home. Commuters switch subway trains and buses at Fort Totten Station, close to U.S. Civil War defenses. Others gather at Malcolm X Park/Meridian Hill Park N.W. These places, and others like them, are essential threads in Washington’s urban fabric. They are used every day by tens of thousands of people who may never have stopped to wonder whose name they bear or why.

Block by Block: Naming Washington is organized to reflect Washington, D.C.’s four quadrants. Subjects represented in the exhibition are Clara Barton, Henry Ward Beecher, William Ellery Channing, Frederick Douglass, David G. Farragut, Joseph Gales, Oliver Otis Howard, Martin Luther King Jr., Samuel Pierpont Langley, David D. Porter, William Henry Seward, Charles Sumner, Joseph Gilbert Totten, Raoul Wallenberg and Malcom X.

Due to lighting conditions in the Riley Gallery and the sensitivity of the original portraits, only reproductions will be displayed in this exhibition. The reproductions on display represent works by 19th- and 20th-century artists and photographers, such as James Rosenquist, George Kendall Warren and the Mathew Brady Studio.

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 nation’s story.

The National Portrait Gallery is located at 8th St NW & F St NW. Connect with the museum at npg.si.eduFacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube.