From Elvis Presley and James Dean to Johnny Depp, "American Cool" namechecks 100 actors, actresses, artists, musicians and writers in the United States whose creativity and style have shaped the concept of cool. The exhibit includes Louise Brooks.
The show was put together by jazz professor Joel Dinerstein and photography scholar Frank Goodyear. The two spent five years going through 500 names of charismatic Americans who might be regarded as cool. To make their selection, Dinerstein and Goodyear came up with four defining factors: 1) originality of artistic vision and especially of a signature style 2) cultural rebellion, or transgression in a given historical moment 3) iconicity, or a certain level of high-profile recognition 4) recognised cultural legacy lasting more than a decade.
Another deciding factor was that there had to be a classic picture of the person; among the photographers featured in the show are Carl Van Vechten, Philippe Halsman, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Edward Steichen.
Early film stars illuminate the "roots of cool" section - screen legends like Greta Garbo, Buster Keaton and Mae West. The complete list:
Zora Neale Hurston
Willie “The Lion” Smith
"American Cool" runs through September 7. The National Portrait Gallery's website is located at www.npg.si.edu. "American Cool" is accompanied by a fully illustrated 192-page catalogue.