The National Portrait Gallery’s American Cool, on view until September 7, is a cultural study through portraits of iconic figures from a variety of fields of art, culture, and political activism. American Cool embodies the zeitgeist in a gallery of silver gelatin.
What does it mean to be cool? Cool is rebellious self-expression, magnetism, and edginess. In the early 1940s, legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young carried this central African American concept into a modern language. Cool became the thoroughfare to laid-back lifestyle bringing a poised state of mind, a spirited mode of performance, and a certain sophisticated fortitude. A cool person controlled the historical moment with an original signature style. Cool has been personified in jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Billie Holiday, in actors such as Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn, and Johnny Depp, and in singers such as Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Debbie Harry, and Jay-Z.