WASHINGTON – Used to be, you had to be dead 10 years before you could get your picture in the National Portrait Gallery. Now you just need 50 million Twitter followers and a best-selling album.
Joining the ranks of such great American songbirds as Marian Anderson, Maria Callas, Lena Horne and Joni Mitchell – each of whom has been immortalized in paint at the Smithsonian museum dedicated to historically and culturally significant Americans – is pop singer Katy Perry. A recent acquisition, the 2010 oil-on-linen portrait of Perry by artist Will Cotton will briefly go on view for the next few weeks.
In the painting, Perry is dressed like a baked confection.
Titled Cupcake Katy, Cotton’s tongue-in-cheek rendering depicts the singer in a mini-dress resembling a fluted paper baking cup. She sports a candy tiara and just the faintest hint of a Mona Lisa smile, suggesting that, yes, she gets both the absurdity of membership in this elite company and the humor of the regal pose, which parodies French court painting.
So how did she get here? According to curator Dorothy Moss, who spotted the painting in a corner of Cotton’s New York studio while picking the painter’s brain for names of artists who could do portrait commissions, Perry has just as much right to be among the museum’s august company as, say, Michael Jackson, who’s represented in the Portrait Gallery collection by a 1984 Andy Warhol work. (After Jacko, Perry is the only artist – and the first woman – to have produced five No. 1 hits from a single album: Teenage Dream, which Cotton also created the cover art for. Acknowledging the Queen of Pop that she is, Perry’s portrait at the NPG shows her holding a scepter that looks suspiciously like a big birthday candle.
Katy Kats (as the singer’s most rabid fans are known) be advised: If you miss Cupcake Katy during its evanescent appearance, never fear – it’s scheduled to return to public view next spring as part of an installation of pop-culture portraits tentatively called Boldface Names.
Cupcake Katy will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery through July 6.