The National Portrait Gallery celebrates 50 years of the Watergate scandal with a new exhibition

“Watergate: Portraiture and Intrigue” explores the 50th anniversary of the watershed moment through portraiture of the time.

WASHINGTON — A new exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery explores the Watergate scandal 50 years later.

“Watergate: Portraiture and Intrigue”, an exhibition exploring the 50th anniversary of the watershed moment through portraiture of the time. The exhibition will feature 25 objects in various mediums ranging from fine art to pop culture to explore the relationship between portraiture, investigative journalism, activism and politics. The exhibit is curated by Acting Senior Historian Kate Clarke Lemay.

The June 17, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Complex quickly escalated into a political and legal crisis that reached the highest levels of the United States government, including President Richard M. Nixon . The word “Watergate” has come to mean the burglary itself, the subsequent cover-up of White House complicity, and Nixon’s use of federal agencies to obstruct justice. The relentless media attention on Watergate culminated in the summer of 1974 with Nixon’s resignation. TIME The magazine alone has dedicated over 40 cover stories – and portraits – related to the Watergate scandal to the scandal, 12 of which are included in the exhibit.

“The incident and its aftermath have evolved over the decades to become a uniquely American meme, bolstered by depictions in film and pop culture and a regular reference in modern political discourse. ‘Watergate: Portraiture and Intrigue ‘ examines the crisis and its contributors through the lens of artists and critics of its time,” Lemay said.

The exhibition brings visitors face to face with the characters of the event through portraits of various mediums from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Besides the former president, the exhibit features portraits of those involved in the scandal and subsequent investigations, including Mark Felt, Barry Goldwater, Katherine Graham, Barbara Jordan, John Mitchell and Rose Mary Woods. The exhibit also highlights stories that unfolded on the fringes of the scandal, including that of Martha Mitchell, wife of then-Attorney General John Mitchell, who was kidnapped on the orders of her husband in the early days following burglary.

“Watergate: Portraiture and Intrigue” features the work of artists Richard Avedon, Marisol Escobar, George Guisti and Dirck Halstead and illustrators and political cartoonists of the day, including Jack Davis, Patrick Oliphant and Edward Sorel. The exhibition continues the Portrait Gallery’s “One Life” series dedicated to the biography of a single figure, theme or moment in time since 2006.

The exhibition will run from March 25 to September 5.

Julia P. Cluff