National Portrait Gallery salutes Spike Lee, Rita Moreno, others at DC gala

Introduction

The National Portrait Gallery honored five American titans on Sunday night.

Click through the gallery for descriptions of the individual portraits.

Then read why these honorees are so deserving below.

Jesse Frohman created this portrait of Spike Lee using injket print on paper in 1990. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)
Spike Lee

Jesse Frohman created this portrait of Spike Lee using injket print on paper in 1990.

“It’s Spike, who’s wearing the hat of his production company and it has this symbol that has like racing stripes on it, so the image is really strong,” Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet said. “He’s got this hat on, he’s wearing glasses, then he’s shading his eyes with one hand, looking directly out at you. With his other hand, he’s holding a giant movie camera. It’s a very meta-moment, because it’s a photographer photographing a photographer. … He’s unflinching in his gaze.”

ADÁL created this portrait of Rita Moreno using gelatin silver print in 1984. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)
Rita Moreno

ADÁL created this portrait of Rita Moreno using gelatin silver print in 1984.

“She’s facing to the side, sitting with her elbows on her knees,” Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet said. “She’s obviously in makeup and costume. She’s got these amazing eyelashes, she’s got full lips and she’s very glamorous, looking out at you with kind of an quizzical look, but she’s not assessing you in the same way that Spike Lee is. She’s saying, I would imagine, ‘I wouldn’t mind being your friend.'”

Robert Mapplethorpe created this portrait of Bill T. Jones using gelatin silver print on paper in 1985. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)
Bill T. Jones

Robert Mapplethorpe created this portrait of Bill T. Jones using gelatin silver print on paper in 1985. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)

“We have a wonderful portrait of him,” Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet said. “He’s as a performer, he’s standing on one leg, sort of this Contrapposto, to use a classical art history term. He’s balancing basically and has this real attitude and has the most amazing dancer’s body, really tall and stretched and this look of confidence.”

NPG.2002.TC4
David Ho

Gregory Heisler created this David Ho portrait using chromogenic print on polyester base in 1996.

“The portrait is this amazing, very modern-looking picture,” Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet said. “He’s looking at images of cells in the body, but it’s actually really beautiful. There’s greens and reds and he’s wearing these reflective glasses. He’s a cool science guy.”

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders created this portrait of Madeline Albright using inkjet print in 2005. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)
Madeleine Albright

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders created this portrait of Madeleine Albright using inkjet print in 2005.

“It was on the cover of her book actually,” Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet said. “She’s looking directly at you and she’s wearing this peace pin in the shape of a dove that was given to her by Leah Rabin. She’s very much known for those pins that she would wear depending on what the situation was, which head of state and which country.”

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY - Left to right, Glenn Ligon, Gerald H. Friedland, M.D., Bill T. Jones, David D. Ho, M.D., Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, Kim Sajet, Rita Moreno, Patrick Ewing, Spike Lee, Robert Redford, and Andrea Mitchell attend The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY — Left to right, Glenn Ligon, Gerald H. Friedland, M.D., Bill T. Jones, David D. Ho, M.D., Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, Kim Sajet, Rita Moreno, Patrick Ewing, Spike Lee, Robert Redford, and Andrea Mitchell attend The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY - Award-winning actor, director, producer and environmentalist Robert Redford, left, and former Secretary of State Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, right, attend The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
Award-winning actor, director, producer and environmentalist Robert Redford, left, and former Secretary of State Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, right, attend The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY - Former Secretary of State Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, left, multi-award-winning actress Rita Moreno, center, and NBC News and MSNBC journalist Andrea Mitchell, right, attend The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
Former Secretary of State Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, left, multi-award-winning actress Rita Moreno, center, and NBC News and MSNBC journalist Andrea Mitchell, right, attend The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY - Film director, producer, writer and actor Spike Lee received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
Film director, producer, writer and actor Spike Lee received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY - Artistic director, choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
Artistic director, choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)

Patrick Ewing and Spike Lee pose for a picture at the National Portrait Gallery. Film director, producer, writer and actor Spike Lee received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C.(Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)
Patrick Ewing and Spike Lee pose for a picture at the National Portrait Gallery. Film director, producer, writer and actor Spike Lee received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C.  Jesse Frohman created this portrait of Spike Lee using injket print on paper in 1990.(Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)

Artistic director, choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)
Artistic director, choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C.  Robert Mapplethorpe created this portrait of Bill T. Jones using gelatin silver print on paper in 1985. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)

Kim Sajet, Rita Moreno, Andrea Mitchell pose next to a portrait of Moreno at the American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)
Kim Sajet, Rita Moreno, Andrea Mitchell pose next to a portrait of Moreno at the American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. ADÁL created this portrait of Rita Moreno using gelatin silver print in 1984. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)

Four-time Grammy Award-winning artist Esperanza Spalding performs at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)
Four-time Grammy Award-winning artist Esperanza Spalding performs at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)

(1/15)
Jesse Frohman created this portrait of Spike Lee using injket print on paper in 1990. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)
ADÁL created this portrait of Rita Moreno using gelatin silver print in 1984. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)
Robert Mapplethorpe created this portrait of Bill T. Jones using gelatin silver print on paper in 1985. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)
NPG.2002.TC4
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders created this portrait of Madeline Albright using inkjet print in 2005. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY - Left to right, Glenn Ligon, Gerald H. Friedland, M.D., Bill T. Jones, David D. Ho, M.D., Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, Kim Sajet, Rita Moreno, Patrick Ewing, Spike Lee, Robert Redford, and Andrea Mitchell attend The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY - Award-winning actor, director, producer and environmentalist Robert Redford, left, and former Secretary of State Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, right, attend The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY - Former Secretary of State Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, left, multi-award-winning actress Rita Moreno, center, and NBC News and MSNBC journalist Andrea Mitchell, right, attend The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY - Film director, producer, writer and actor Spike Lee received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY - Artistic director, choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
Patrick Ewing and Spike Lee pose for a picture at the National Portrait Gallery. Film director, producer, writer and actor Spike Lee received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C.(Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)
Artistic director, choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones received the 2017 Portrait of a Nation Prize at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)
Kim Sajet, Rita Moreno, Andrea Mitchell pose next to a portrait of Moreno at the American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)
Four-time Grammy Award-winning artist Esperanza Spalding performs at The American Portrait Gala 2017 at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery/Zach Hilty/BFA.com)
WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes the Portrait Gala honorees (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — In 2015, the National Portrait Gallery held its first American Portrait Gala with Hank Aaron, Aretha Franklin, Carolina Herrera, Maya Lin and Corp. Kyle Carpenter.

On Sunday night, the star-studded biannual tradition continued by saluting five more worthy American icons: Spike Lee, Rita Moreno, Madeleine Albright, David Ho and Bill T. Jones.

“Unlike the Kennedy Center, which focuses on the arts, portraiture really is cross-disciplinary,” director Kim Sajet told WTOP. “We have three things that we look for: (1) To tell people that we collect contemporary, living people. (2) We have their portraits done by contemporary artists. (3) The mission of the gallery being national and to raise funds for our exhibitions.”

After directing such masterpieces as “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X,” Lee was inducted by Georgetown University alumnus and New York Knicks basketball legend Patrick Ewing.

“He’s one of the most highly respected filmmakers who came at the forefront of the Black New Wave of American Cinema,” Sajet said. “He’s very outspoken, very provocative, people often talk about him as being the social conscience. I think all good artists today are active. That’s their role, to bring to light the things we’ve all been thinking but no one has said.”

Known for starring in “West Side Story,” Moreno was inducted by NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell.

“As we all remember, she played Anita in ‘West Side Story,'” Sajet said. “Over 40 films. … She won the four Grand Slam awards: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy. She’s now 85 years old and still looks young, she’s got all this energy, she’s incredibly gracious. She’s really one of the few people who have been able to cross over into all these different art forms.”

Meanwhile, barrier-breaking Secretary of State Albright was inducted by Robert Redford.

“She was the first female secretary of state in 1997,” Sajet said. “At that point, she was the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government, which is remarkable … She came from Czechoslovakia, a family of immigrants, which at this moment is important. … She’s still involved on the world stage [and] is very much a mentor for young women.”

Voted Time’s Man of the Year in 1996, Ho was inducted by Gerald H. Friedland, M.D.

“He’s been at the forefront of AIDS research since the beginning of the epidemic,” Sajet said. “In fact, in the mid-1990s he developed what’s known as the ‘cocktail,’ an antiretroviral therapy that over 14 million people have benefited from. … There’s a lot of talk these days that the AIDS virus will be cured in the next couple of years. Dr. Ho is at the forefront of that.”

Finally, two-time Tony winner Jones (“Spring Awakening,” “Fela!”) was inducted by Glenn Ligon.

“What’s not to love? He’s an artist, choreographer, dancer, theater director,” Sajet said. “He was really the first to create these amazing performances that blended modern and traditional dance. He founded his own dance company with his partner Arnie Zane in 1982. He’s really been exploring the issues of not just performance but also identity and education.”

Such portraits freeze these geniuses in time, allowing us to look back as we march forward.

“As history repeats itself, one of the things we hope to do at the Portrait Gallery is remind people that it’s good to look back and avoid the mistakes of the past,” Sajet said. “Portraiture is always contemporary. Even if it’s someone who’s long since passed, or the artist too, you’re standing in front of that portrait or sculpture, whatever it is, and our perceptions change.”

Click here for more details. Listen to our full conversations with Kim Sajet and Bill T. Jones below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Kim Sajet (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)
WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Bill T. Jones (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up