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All words: Avalon Swindell Jones, All photos: Priscilla DeLima

After you see the American Cool exhibit, your cool factor will sky rocket. The portraits of each honorary “cool” person exude coolness, so you’re bound to feel as though some rubbed off on you. What exactly does it take to be historically remembered as cool you ask? The Gallery says, “Cool carries a social charge of rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge and mystery.” Everyone you know who is cool, forgot was cool, and never knew was cool is waiting for you at the National Portrait Gallery.

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John Travolta and Madonna’s portraits were two of my favorites because there was something more going in them. Travolta is sitting on the subway practically bleeding coolness, while Madonna appears to be on top of a building (and face it, she can never not look cool). Some portraits I couldn’t appreciate as much because the person was only staring into the camera rather blankly. Others were doing just that but speaking a million words, like Marlon Brando, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, and Tupac. The desperation in Tupac’s eyes was incredibly intense; I could discover more and more the longer I looked. Clint Eastwood,Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali, and Bob Dylan were favorites, as well, but really, there were too many great portraits to name. Even if I didn’t love every portrait, each one’s description taught me something I didn’t know about these iconic figures, like how they gained their pure coolness. The one portrait that seemed out of place was Missy Elliot’s, but that could be because it was hypnotically orange.

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The opening ceremony of the exhibit may or may not have been even cooler than the exhibit. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it definitely exceeded whatever expectation I had.  Their huge space was filled with trees, velvet tablecloths, and a dark blue hue, making me feel extra cool and fancy. The stage was frequented by a DJ, a dance team, a slam poet, and a few singers. The slam poet was incredibly talented, but I don’t know if it was the right place for her to discuss her brother’s fraternity experience.

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Off to the side, there were a few artists making what I think was artwork. This is where it got weird. There was a small stage where someone was under a sheet of plastic, like a ghost. I’m not going to pretend that I understood the hidden, artistic meaning behind the whole act because I honestly have no idea what the person was doing. Then a man wearing just a sweater and underwear appeared on the stage. He had a goblet (I think?) and some other props. He went through a series of moves, jumps, and rolls, and then rubbed a paste all over his legs.  He then removed the paste. Art students drew him, which I imagine would be rather hard due to all his rolling around, but who knows what that was all about. And then there was a man doing a collage in one corner, which was interesting but nothing out of the ordinary.

Even though you won’t experience the opening ceremony, the exhibit is a must-see. Each person featured deserves to be recognized not only for their cool factor, but also for their impression on American society.

See the National Portrait Gallery’s American Cool exhibition through September 7th.

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