On October 30, 2011, the National Portrait Gallery opened its first major museum exhibition to focus on themes of sexual differences in modern American portraiture. Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture brings together a wide range of media, including paintings, photographs, works on paper, film, and installation art. Hide/Seek takes a historical approach, beginning in the late nineteenth century to the present. The exhibition “considers such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern America; how artists explored the fluidity of sexuality and gender; how major themes in modern art – especially abstraction were influenced by social marginalization; and how art reflected society’s evolving and changing attitudes toward sexuality, desire, gender norms, and romantic attachment.” 
Throughout the exhibition, the artists respond in powerful ways to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the AIDS epidemic, and postmodern themes of identity. Hide/Seek does a phenomenal job in highlighting how art and identity are indistinguishably bound together, particularly in the genre of portraiture. The artwork during the AIDS epidemic brought the struggles of the gay community to the forefront, humanizing their loss and cementing their place in American society.
Set against the mass political protest movements of the 1960’s, the Stonewall riots of 1969 and its aftermath signaled the beginning of the LGBT community no longer remaining invisible in society. To “come out” was to take a personal and political stand, which held both cultural and artistic consequences. A change occurred in the culture so much so “that what had previously been hidden, coded, or omitted could now be openly expressed,” and artist such as Keith Herring during the time made it clear that we as a gay community are here to stay. 
The art that struck the strongest chord came out of one of the worst health crises in American history, the on-going AIDS/HIV global epidemic. The epidemic both devastated and transformed the gay community. Having AIDS was stigmatized to the gay community and many believed that the afflicted deserved what they got for their immorality.  Yet, the epidemic yanked everybody awake and pushed gayness and queerness out of its subcultural and fully into the public realm. Many of the most compelling artworks of the late-80s and early-90s spawned from the AIDS crisis, creating an emotional record of resistance to those who exploited tragedy for political gain.
“Artistically, the response was elegiac, moving, and profound,” such as Keith Haring’s Unfinished Painting painted in the same year of his passing due to AIDS complications at thirty-one years of age in 1990. Haring was a graffiti artist and social activist whose unique style and response to New York City’s street culture of the 1980s boosted him to fame. Part of Haring’s importance as an artist was how his art raised awareness of AIDS. The incompleteness of Haring’s Unfinished Painting captures the viewers’ attention and demands them to confront the results of AIDS, especially under the weight of Haring’s death shortly after its completion.
Similar to Haring, Flexi Gonzales-Torres used art to highlight the totality of AIDS. In Portrait of Ross in L.A, Torres used a candy installation to bring attention to the loss of his partner Ross Laycock. The installation featured a mass of spilled candy that weighed 175 pounds, Ross’s weight when he was healthy. The artist invites the viewer to take away a candy until gradually the spill diminishes and disappears; it is then replenished, and the cycle of life continues. By inviting the visitor to take a piece of candy, the artist comments on how society itself is “abetting the continued martyrdom of those who suffered from AIDS.” 
According to the World Health Organization, “HIV is the world’s leading infectious killer, an estimated 39 million people have died since the first cases were reported in 1981 and 1.5 million people died of AIDS-related causes in 2013.”  AIDS is not a gay disease; it crosses all racial, social-economic, age, and sexual orientation lines. Nothing made this clearer than the AIDS Memorial Quilt of 1987. In an effort to document the lives of those many-feared history would neglect, a group from San Francisco created a memorial for those who had died of AIDS, to help people understand the devastating impact of the disease.
On October 11, 1987, the Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall, during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The Quilt covered the space of a football field and included 1,920 panels. Half a million people visited the Quilt that weekend. Today the Quilt is a powerful visual reminder of the totality of the AIDS epidemic. 
Presenting issues surrounding LGBT themes may be one of the biggest challenges and opportunities mainstream cultural organizations face today. It is way past time for mainstream art history to acknowledge the shaping role of sexual difference in modern art. The challenge for art museums is not just to mount an occasional token show about LGBT issues; rather, it has to include an everyday understanding of gay or queer issues in its regular discourse. “Equally important is the need to assess the price that acceptance into history, and into the world, on mainstream terms may exact”, in culture institutions today. 
 “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture”, National Portrait Gallery, http://npg.si.edu/exhibit/hideseek/.
 “Hide/Seek”, National Portrait Gallery, http://npg.si.edu/exhibit/hideseek/.
 “Global HIV/AIDS Overview,” AIDS, https://www.aids.gov/federal-resources/around-the-world/global-aids-overview/.
 “The AIDS Memorial Quilt, The Names Project, “http://www.aidsquilt.org/about/the-aids-memorial-quilt.
 Holland Cotter, “Sexuality in Modernism: The (Partial) History,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/arts/design/11hide.html.