Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tiny Garden Models

Where: Ripley Center

When: no closing date

I went over to see this small display in the Concourse last week, as the original closing date was early September (and I'm now on to September closings - where does the time go?!?!).  Now, however, they've decided to keep it up longer and the closing date has been changed to TBD.  So no need to rush out and see this.

It's a display of several models of gardens, done in miniature.  You also get a photograph of the real garden (from the Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens - who knew?), so it's not just a little toy.  It's an actual small replica, designed to spur you on to great feats of garden design.  Or at least, give you some ideas of what to do in your back yard.

My only problem with this is that the notes are printed in small type and set mostly in the center of the display.  And since the models are set in the middle of large brick pedestals, the middle is rather far from where the viewer is standing.  Very hard to see, if one doesn't have eagle eyes.

Verdict: Worth a look, if you're on your way to something else.  Basically, just a nice way to decorate the Concourse.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Glory that was Camelot

Where: American History Museum

When: through August 27, 2017

If you'd like a glimpse of what America was like before "the 60s" or if you're a fan of the Kennedys, head over to the American History Museum to see the Richard Avedon photographs of JFK and family.  They were taken just before he was inaugurated, and it's like looking into a time capsule.

The museum is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Kennedy's birth (so is American Art, just by the way - I'll have a review of that show once I've seen it), and it's interesting that they would choose this collection of photographs, over something to do with his Presidency or WWII service.

They were taken just as America was about to step into a new phase; Kennedy was the first of the "Greatest Generation" Presidents, who occupied the White House until Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1992.  So they represent both a look forward for those who saw them in 1961 - looking towards a new generation of leadership, and a look back for us in 2017, who see a time before so many cultural upheavals.

The family is depicted against a plain white background, and one can't help but feel that they were carefully posed.  Both JFK and Jackie Kennedy are carefully looking into the camera, projecting a certain youthful seriousness, as if to say, "Yes, we are very young and glamorous, but we're ready to take on our new responsibilities."

The exception to all this message sending are the photos with Caroline.  She's quite young, and clearly very happy to be with her father.  She looks completely authentic, the way kids do before they learn they have to "smile for the camera."

Verdict: There are only a few photographs, so this won't take very long.  They're in the Presidents exhibit, and you can have a look at Warren Harding's flamboyant pajamas on your way to see them.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Beauty and the Beast at the Renwick

Where: Renwick Gallery

When: through August 20, 2017

I went over to the Renwick yesterday, and because it's a bit of a hike for me, I saw two shows in one trip.  The first was an exhibit of gorgeous enamels by June Schwarcz; I liked them so much I took two photographs to share on the blog.


This is one of her earlier works, called "Nut Bowl."  I'm not sure if this comes out in the photo, but the inside looks like a nut.  It is both beautiful and a pun, which is an uncommon mixture.  The colors of her works are stunning; I felt as if I could take them home and live happily ever after with them.

Although this piece could certainly hold nuts, some of her work is non-functional, or as she herself put it, "They just don't hold water."  One gets the sense that she didn't take herself too seriously, which is another reason I like her art.

She took inspiration from nature, fashion and the work of other artists.  Only last week, I'd been craving some Durer in that show on French art, well, see the piece below which was inspired by him.


It's an abstract, where Durer was a realist, but the precision is there.  So, I'm now a June Schwarcz fan - any friend of Durer's is a friend of mine.

Then I moved on to the Peter Voulkos show, which is in the rooms just behind Schwarcz.  What a change, and not for the better.  Big clunky, ugly pieces, all sharp edges and looking like failed experiments.  The items pictured below are the least awful.


The rest of the show is all mangled clay; all I could think was, "This is so un-beautiful."  The wall notes provided my a-ha moment.  Turns out he was inspired by Abstract Expressionism, so no wonder it's so beastly.

The final room of the show features some of his "blackware."  One of his friends said of it, "It wouldn't surprise me if the pots had been made in the dark."  It wouldn't surprise me either!

Verdict: The Schwarcz show is wonderful; Voulkos you can skip.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Trip to Rococo France

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through August 20, 2017

The National Gallery's show, "America Collects," on now through August 20th, is a trip to France before the Revolution.  The title of the show refers to the fact that all of the pieces on display are from collections in the United States, as Americans love French art.

It all started with the arrival in 1815 of Joseph Bonaparte (brother of Napoleon) with a large number of paintings, presumably to console him while in exile in the U.S.   This excited an interest that was taken up years later by Gilded Age tycoons, who collected these pieces to decorate their grand homes and then donated them to public institutions, where they continue to reside and attract visitors.

I confess, Rococo art is not to my taste - all the frippery and finery and exuberance makes me long for the precision of a Durer, but when one goes to an exhibit of 18th century French art, one must be prepared for some gaudy frills.

I was interested to see "The Bath of Venus" and "The Toilette of Venus," now displayed together for the first time since the 1700s.  Long-time readers know that I'm always eager to see works that rarely travel or that haven't been exhibited in ages or that are reunited after many years apart.  Right up my street.

Much to my delight, I saw a piece with a dog that looked very like my own four-legged friend.  A black and tan Spaniel-esque canine, the one in the painting had a bit more black in his coat and a smaller snout than my Sherlock, but they could easily have been siblings.

I thought as I made my way through room after room of Gallic excess, "But we all know what happens to these people in 1789..."  And of course, art changed quite a bit after the Reign of Terror.  Gone were the bright colors and opulent settings; a gritty realism took over.  The work that stuck with me most strongly was a piece entitled "The Drunken Cobbler."  It depicted a derelict man, besieged by his wife and her barefoot children.  I use the old saw "the cobbler's children have no shoes" on a regular basis - here it was in front of me!

Verdict: I liked this show more than I thought I would.  Even if much of the style is not my favorite, it was well presented, and the wall notes were quite interesting.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Thinking of my Brother

Where: Natural History Museum

When: through August 14, 2017

There's a fine exhibit on the National Park Service, complete with gorgeous photos, on now at Natural History.  Last August marked the 100th birthday of the NPS, and the museum is doing its part to honor one of the things that makes America great.

My use of the national parks consists of the National Mall and Wolf Trap (the only national park for the performing arts!), but I am a supporter of the National Park Service Foundation and hope that someday, I'll be able to see the great parks out west.  Plus, my brother works for the NPS (in fact, he is somewhere in the photo above), so I have plenty of reasons to support them and the great work they do.

"There is nothing so American as our national parks."  - FDR, 1934

This quote is printed at the beginning of the exhibit, a fitting way to start.  No matter how bad things may be in the economy (keep in mind, Roosevelt said this in the midst of a depression) or in the world at large (you'll recall, things weren't looking good overseas either), our national parks are always a worthwhile investment of the nation's time and money.   This show gives you a feel for the variety of parks throughout the country.  Photos of Peacefield (John and Abigail Adams' home) and Mount Vernon reminded me of trips I've taken; Yosemite and Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are trips I'd like to take in future.

In other news, the Korea Gallery has closed, and a "Garden Lounge" is under construction.  I'm not sure exactly what this will be, but I'm guessing some sort of eatery?  When it opens in November, I'll be sure to check it out.

Verdict: If you are a lover of nature photography, don't miss this show.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Two Small Shows at the National Gallery

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through August 6, 2017

It hadn't occurred to me until just now that I saw two shows on urban landscapes this week.  Perhaps because they're so different, both in style and content?

This one is a very small (two little rooms, across the hall from the large exhibit spaces on the Ground Floor of the West Building) display of works spanning the 20th century.  They are part of the NGA's print collection, which is quite large, especially with the addition of the Corcoran pieces.

The piece I photographed for the post is by Louis Lozowick (whose work I feel certain I've seen before - the name is familiar) called "Allen Street."  The sun coming through the elevated tracks to make geometric shapes on the street below really caught my eye.

Verdict: Nice small show, worth a look if you're there for one of the larger shows.

The other display I saw was in the library, in the East Building and it runs through August 25.  It's called Companion Pieces and it's a collection of items that accompanied avant garde art shows.  If you're interested in the history of modern art, it might be worth a look, but otherwise you can skip it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

More Latino Art

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: through August 6, 2017

I don't know how it happened, but 2017 has rushed by in a blur.  It doesn't seem possible that it's more than halfway over, but since I've started seeing shows that close in August, I have no choice but to believe it's so.

I saw several things this week, the largest of which is this show of photographs by Latino photographers, depicting life in urban neighborhoods.  The time frame is early 1960's through the 1980's.  The series I chose for the blog photo is by Camilo Jose Vergara, and it's called "65 East 125th Street, Harlem."  It's the same storefront as it changes over the years.  It starts out as a lounge, with a rather "dive bar" look to it and winds up as a church.   I don't know if this is due to changes in the surrounding neighborhood, or just the vicissitudes of business, but it makes you think about the passing of time, which, I guess, brings us back to the whole "I can't believe it's already July" idea.

I found myself remembering the photography show I saw at American Indian recently; it's really a similar idea - documenting the people of an area that is often overlooked by mainstream society.  The portraits of children especially made me think of that other show.

I also liked the "Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, 1980" by Anthony Hernandez, which is bus stops and people waiting for buses to arrive.  Been there (well, not exactly there, but in that same situation); done that.  I can remember, as a graduate student with no car, wishing I lived at "Not in Service" since that was where all the buses seemed to be going.

Perhaps the most interesting piece was Ruben Ochoa's "What if Walls Created Spaces?" which is a lenticular print mounted on aluminum composite.  As you walk past, the highway wall pictured opens up and green space is revealed.

Verdict: Nicely laid out show; interesting photographs made by a group (Latinos) that I don't see enough of in my lunchtime travels.  I'm hoping more Latino art will go on display in future.