The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, culminates its 50th anniversary season this year with the opening of Art and Ideals: President John F. Kennedy, a permanent interpretive exhibition. Pentagram’s Abbott Miller developed the creative direction and design for the show, which opens to the public this Saturday, September 17.
As a living memorial to John F. Kennedy, the Kennedy Center actively seeks new ways to embody its namesake’s ideals, honor his legacy and celebrate his commitment to the arts. The exhibition establishes an interpretive space at the Center that explores Kennedy’s personal connection with the performing and visual arts and reminds visitors of their importance to a democratic society.
“Above all, we are coming to understand that the arts incarnate the creativity of a free people. When the creative impulse cannot flourish, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs,” wrote President Kennedy.
The exhibition was designed and produced in collaboration with architects KieranTimberlake, consulting curator Ileen Gallagher, and an advisory committee of five leading U.S. historians, who helped establish the focus of the narrative and relate Kennedy’s ideals to aspects of the Center’s ongoing work.
Located on the terrace level in the JFK Gallery at the center of the original Edward Durell Stone building, a 7,500 sq. ft former atrium space has been renovated and repurposed to house the new exhibition.The display is divided into four key areas that link the arts to democracy, social change, culture and the White House itself. Kennedy was renowned as a powerful orator, and these themes are explored through his eloquent writing and speeches.
Pentagram’s design features a dramatic architectural frieze of LEDs that allows visitors to vividly experience Kennedy’s gifts as an orator, and that amplifies the themes of the exhibition. The intensive media environment was developed in collaboration with Batwin + Robin Productions and incorporates photography, text, and archival footage.
A series of three interactive experiences were developed with TheGreenEyl’s Richard The and his team. “Dinner at the White House” features a series of touchscreen “plates” that represent the prominent cultural figures who attended Kennedy dinners. Commonalities among the guests emerge as graphics link up on the table top, and visitors can create their own guest lists.
“The Power of Words” presents keywords from landmark Kennedy speeches on a mirrored wall, where they come together to form full sentences as people approach. “Dynamic Portraiture” introduces the historic Kennedy portrait by expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning and enables visitors to create their own digital self-portraits in her distinctive style and palette.
At the opening ceremony on September 8, Miller participated in a panel discussion with Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter and historian Fred Logeval, moderated by Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein. Rose Kennedy Schlossberg and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff were in attendance, and the event featured a performance by the renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who originally played for JFK at “An American Pageant of the Arts,” a 1962 fundraiser for the National Cultural Center that later became the Kennedy Center.
Exhibition photos by Alan Karchmer.