Laugh or Cry: Katy Perry joins 44 presidents in National Portrait Gallery

Pop star's portrait goes on display in D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Should I laugh or should I cry? It’s not just the title of a 1981 song by Abba – it’s how you sometimes feel when something is either so absurd or so maddening or so something that you’re just not sure how to react. We here at DecodeDC think politics and the actions of those who play in the political arena are filled with laugh or cry moments. We hope you do too. 

Visitors to the National Gallery in Washington today may be surprised to see a new, candy-themed portrait hanging among the images of American presidents and Tudor monarchs.

The gallery will display “Cupcake Katy”, a painting by New York artist Will Cotton featuring pop icon and “California Gurl” Katy Perry until July 6th. Perry is seen holding a confectionery scepter and dressed in a silver cupcake wrapper-inspired dress with a swirly red and white lollipop candy crown.

Yes, an image of the singer best known for having the eye of the tiger will now be joining such famous works as the Lansdowne portrait of George Washington.

How did this ‘Fireworks’ celebrity come to be on showcase at the museum?

 “Katy Perry comes from an American tradition of strong women entertainers who have ‘turned the tables’ on their audiences by challenging the supposedly superficial representation of their pop personas,” said director, Kim Sajet in a statement to the press. “Will Cotton’s tongue-in-check portrait of Katy as a ‘cupcake’ brings to mind a traditional European portrait of a bewitching 18th-century belle—Madame de Pompadour perhaps.”

That’s a fine interpretation. Perhaps it’s true that Perry has turned the tables on the music industry, but does her fame, status and hit singles really make her a ‘historical’ figure?

Perhaps the portrait gallery, filled with centuries-old art, needs a fresh face? There’s no argument Katy’s is just that.

Either way, it’ll definitely open up a generational dialog that might not have been heard in these halls before.

So we ask you, do we laugh or do we cry?


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