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, Wednesday (June 18) through July 6, near the museum's G Street entrance. Its appearance is just in time for the legions of Katy Kats (as the singer's most rabid fans are known) who are about to descend on the Verizon Center for her two upcoming shows.
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 be advised: Though Moss says that there have been discussions with Perry's people about the possibility of the performer dropping by the museum while she's in town, nothing is definite. And 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 starting Wednesday through July 6. Eighth and F Streets NW (Metro: Gallery Place). 202-633-8300. www.npg.si.edu. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Katy Perry's Prismatic World Tour hits Verizon Center June 24-25. Verizon Center, 601 F St. NW. 202-628-3200. www.verizoncenter.com.