Featured Friend: Marc Pachter
Director Emeritus, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Director-at-Large, Smithsonian Institution
There is an implied contradiction in calling myself an American flâneur. To be an American in spirit usually implies a hard-driving goal of doing something useful or perhaps only profitable, a search for the right answer to the question “what do you do?” This is contradicted by the more Latin tradition of “being,” in a certain way, of strolling without being propelled to a destination, or manifesting what the Italians call “la bella figura.” So now when I am, inevitably, asked (only in the US) what I do, I answer, in my post type-A life, “I do nothing- beautifully.”
Granted, this can sound pretentious, but I only mean to startle the questioner into an awareness of the value of the slow life, or put another way, the life of flow rather than planned purpose. The core of what I do is to “notice,” while others are rushing by. Traditionally flâneurs (as defined in late 19th century Paris) often wrote about their wanderings- or were themselves written about. But I mostly value invisibility. When I capture an observed moment it is covertly, through an iPhone camera. I do this mostly as a form of a diary of my life and travels. Here I welcome you to have a quick look and what I have noticed in New York, where I live, and Berlin, a city to which I always return.
Scenes from New York City
Photos by Marc Pachter
Scenes from Berlin
Photos by Marc Pachter
After a thirty three year career at the Smithsonian Institution, Marc Pachter retired in 2008 as Director of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), the nation’s only museum of American biography and portraiture. From November 2001 until January 2003, he also directed the National Museum of American History, the first person to lead two Smithsonian museums at the same time.
His seven year tenure at the NPG was highlighted by his supervision of the renovation of the museum, involving the restoration of the 170 year old Patent Office Building and the reinstallation of the museum’s collection, which re-opened in 2006. Central to that renovation was the re-opening of the Hall of Presidents, which, along with the White House Collection, represents the national collection of Presidential portraits. He successfully mounted a national campaign to acquire the full-length portrait of George Washington (the “Lansdowne”) by Gilbert Stuart, the defining portrait of the American Presidency.
In 2011, Pachter was called back to the Smithsonian to serve as Interim Director of the National Museum of American History. He completed that assignment in February of 2013.
In 1999 he was awarded the Secretary’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Service.