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Portrait Gallery to honor Fauci, Serena and Venus Williams, José Andrés and others

After a pandemic delay, the honorees will be celebrated at a Nov. 12 gala and have their portraits added to the Smithsonian museum’s collection

Anthony S. Fauci is one of seven notable people who will be honored Nov. 12 by the National Portrait Gallery. (Bloomberg News)
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Like many Washington residents, Anthony S. Fauci loves the city’s great museums, but he has a particular affinity for the works at the National Portrait Gallery.

“When I go and look at the portraits of Obama, and Roosevelt, and all the presidents, clearly the artist is trying to express elements of the person’s character, the person’s stress and strain, the person’s accomplishments,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. “You get a feel for the person, and that I can appreciate.”

Fauci’s likeness will join the Smithsonian museum’s other notable portraits later this year, when the nation’s top infectious-disease expert and six others are celebrated at the 2022 Portrait of a Nation Awards on Nov. 12.

Created in 2015 and given every other year, the award recognizes individuals who have “made transformative contributions to the United States and its people across numerous fields of endeavor, ranging from the arts and sciences to sports and humanitarianism,” according to the museum. The gallery will display a portrait of each honoree, and those works will be added to its permanent collection.

Fauci said he was overwhelmed by the honor.

“It is one of the most humbling of all of the recognition that I’ve gotten,” he said. “I’ve lived in Washington the last 50 years and the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery is an iconic place in my mind. It makes me feel humbled and almost embarrassed to be in the same building with the people whose portraits are there.”

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The other 2022 award winners are filmmaker Ava DuVernay, tennis champions and activists Serena and Venus Williams, chef and humanitarian José Andrés, Grammy-winning music producer Clive Davis and Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman. The portraits will be displayed starting Nov. 10.

“It’s a moment to pay gratitude to people who have made the world a better place,” National Portrait Gallery Director Kim Sajet said of the fourth slate of honorees. “It’s about recognizing them in their lifetime, knowing that their portraits will be there for future generations.”

The 2021 gala was postponed by 12 months because of the pandemic. At the previous celebrations in 2015, 2017 and 2019, the museum honored Henry “Hank” Aaron, Aretha Franklin, Bill T. Jones, Anna Wintour, Maya Lin and Madeleine Albright, among others.

In addition to celebrating the honorees, the gala highlights the museum and its work in contemporary portraiture, Sajet said.

“It’s about reminding everyone that there is a portrait gallery in the United States and that we collect portraits of living people and we are doing a lot of work with contemporary artists,” she said.

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The 2022 honorees have worked to address social justice, health and wellness, economic inequality, and equity and inclusion, and each has had a major impact on the world, especially during the pandemic, Sajet said.

“I’m grateful we have these people in the world right now,” she said. “They have all helped us, in their own way, to cope.

“This isn’t a vanity project,” she added. “It is for the future, for future generations.”

The November gala will be held in the museum’s courtyard and will include a private viewing of the portraits, dinner and a performance.

Each honoree chooses who will present their award, a tradition that has added a dose of glamour to the evening and led to some memorable tributes. In past years, Patrick Ewing honored Spike Lee, Michelle Obama paid tribute to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Robert Redford celebrated Albright.

Fauci says his love for museums dates to his days at Regis High School, a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. He has been sworn to secrecy about the details of his portrait, but he said he is accepting the award on behalf of his fellow career public servants.

“I am one of many, many scientists in the federal government. I just have been, by a series of circumstances, put in a position where I’m well-recognized,” he said. “People are going to say, ‘What’s a government worker doing with those people?’ In some respects, it creates a little more awareness and respect for people who are in government service.”

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