Saturday, December 9, 2017

Worlds in Miniature

Where: Hirshhorn Museum

When: closing March 4, 2018

Yes, I'm seeing exhibits that won't close until March.  I think this is because there haven't been as many shows up this year, what with the Freer and Sackler galleries closed.

Also, I'm trying to see as much as I can before a potential government shutdown at the end of the month.  Congress agreed to funding that avoided having to shutter the Smithsonian (and the rest of the government too) as of yesterday, but legislation runs out in a couple of weeks.  <sigh> The thought of having to live with the current political situation without my beloved art and cultural escape is not pleasant.

Oh well, perhaps we will be spared this unpalatable fate, and right now, the lights are still on.  So what about this show at the Hirshhorn?

These are models for large installations by a Russian-born American couple; some of them have been realized and others have not.  The one I chose for the blog picture is one that, sadly, as not been realized.  It was intended either for the Bank of Seattle or the Library.  Having visited the Seattle Public Library several years ago, I can say it would have fit right in with the other art on display there.

Although nothing was wrapped, I was reminded of Christo, as I walked around the 2nd floor of the Hirshhorn, looking at these ideas for public art.  Perhaps it's because this all seems a bit mad?  Or because it's meant to be on such a large scale?

Verdict: Worth a look, especially if you're in the museum for the Ai Weiwei show, or to see the Pickett's Charge installation.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Say Cheese!

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through January 28, 2018

This is a small show, only two rooms.  It's well sized for a lunchtime outing, and is interesting as well.  It's a tribute to Robert Menschel, who pledged both money and photographs to start and expand the National Gallery's collection.

Spanning a wide time period, from the 1840s through the 1990s, one is struck by the fact that humans have been smiling for the camera for about 170 years.  Compared to painting or sculpture, it's a new art form, but it's been around for a while now.

The photograph that stood out to me the most was one by Robert Frank called "San Francisco."  It's part of his Americans series, and it depicts an African-American man and woman sitting on a grassy hillside looking down at the city.  Becoming aware of Frank's presence, they are turned to the camera, looking wary and ready to rise.  The viewer is uncertain: are they afraid, are they hostile?  Clearly, there is some discomfort there.

Verdict: A fine tribute to a generous benefactor.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Bringing the War Home

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: closing January 28, 2018

I found "The Face of Battle," the exhibit of portraits of soldiers at the National Portrait Gallery, very moving.  For the vast majority of Americans, who don't know anyone in the military, it's easy to forget that young people are dying in wars on a regular basis.  It's important for all of us to remember.

One of the show's curators noticed that veterans were used as props to sell things, and I was reminded of the fine novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.  This show features the work of six artists, who depict ordinary soldiers and what they've left behind.

Stacy Pearsall's photographs depicted cigarettes and comradeship among servicemen and women as they wait to fight.

Emily Prince has constructed a graphical depiction of those who have died with many pieces of paper, color-coded to match the person's skin; all I could think was, "All of these people are dead."

Ashley Gilbertson takes photographs of the bedrooms of those killed in action; "bedrooms empty of all but things."  They are all the bedrooms of such young people.

Louie Palu's portraits show soldiers who all look as if they've seen terrible things.  I could only hope that they have received some help to deal with their memories.

Vincent Valdez's show is devoted to a friend who killed himself as a result of PTSD.  It's just so sad.

Tim Hetherington's works are of male soldiers working together; I felt distant from the work, as it is quite deliberately men only.

Verdict: This is an excellent show and should be required viewing for everyone.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Vermeer Without the Crowds

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Main Floor

When: closing January 21, 2018

Several years ago, there was a Vermeer exhibit at the National Gallery that was so popular they had to issue timed-entry tickets.  If you missed that, or you'd like to see Vermeer without thousands of your closest friends, the new show on Dutch genre paintings at the National Gallery is just the thing for you.  Although there is a rope set up quite a distance from the exhibit entrance and extra docents about to hand out brochures, I walked right in with no problem when I went at lunch time week before last.

It's not just Vermeer, but his work in company with other Dutch painters of the same period.  They were clearly copying each other, as the same scenes and characters appear in several different works.  I read a review that said Vermeer's pieces were clearly the best in each room, and that may well be true.  I'll say I saw plenty to like, both by Vermeer and by others.

I started playing a game as I looked at the pieces, which I called "Where's the Dog?"  So many paintings include a four-legged friend that it felt strange to see one without a canine representative.  Most of the dogs were vaguely Spaniel-ish, so I felt right at home.

There's also a map of Delft from the Gallery's Library in a lounge area (I'd not seen a rest stop in a show before - perhaps also due to anticipated crowds?); nice to see something from the Library's collection make it into an actual show.

Verdict: Great way to see Vermeer without growing old in line.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Hooray - the Sackler is Open!

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: closing January 15, 2018

The Sackler has been closed for renovations for several months, and I was very happy to see it reopen.  This was my first visit back to my favorite museum, and I noticed one change in particular.

The show I saw dealt with representations of cats in Egyptian art, and it was a good, fun exhibit.  Great for fans of Egyptian art, cat lovers and art enthusiasts generally, I enjoyed myself there.

Note: contrary to popular belief, Egyptians did not worship cats; rather, they identified certain qualities of cats with specific gods.  They were intrigued by the duality of feline nature: on the one hand, nurturing, on the other hand, aggressive.  Much better to be the beloved kitten than the hunted prey.

I noticed a photograph by Eliot Elisofon at the beginning of the show and remembered the exhibit of his works at African Art.  There was also an actual cat mummy on display - you don't see that every day.

The thing that struck me was the change in the wording of the wall notes.  I feel as if the language was simpler, less scholarly.  Perhaps it's just for this one show, as it might draw more children?  Perhaps it was my imagination?  I'll have to watch closely at future shows...

Verdict: So glad to have the Sackler back, and the montage of modern-day cats was a nice touch at the end.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Trip to the Renwick

I had some extra time one afternoon a couple of weeks ago and decided to spend it at the Renwick.  The gallery is a bit far for a lunch time visit, and I was able to take my time and see three shows.  I was surprised at how crowded it was - you'd think WONDER was still on.

When: closing January 28, 2018

The only way to describe the number of people at the "Murder is her Hobby" show is as a mob scene.  It was actually difficult to see the dioramas, as there were so many people to contend with.  These are murder scenes, based on actual crimes, created by Frances Glessner Lee, for use in training homicide investigators.

They are an interesting blend of womanly craft and manly crime solving, so quite modern.  A macabre hobby certainly, but also a way for a woman to make a serious contribution to police work, in a time when that was not generally possible.

Apparently, there's a thought that Lee was the basis for Jessica Fletcher, the crime solving inhabitant of Cabot Cove, Maine, played by Angela Lansbury on "Murder, She Wrote."  Not sure if that's true or not, or what Lee would have thought of the show, which I'm guessing was not a realistic depiction of police procedure.

When: closing January 28, 2018

This is an installation that looks like a subway stop, except the train never arrives.  All it needs is a Metro sign, and it could be the Red Line.  I caught myself looking for the third rail, in an effort to avoid it. 

It's intriguing, when you stand by the side of the tracks, you can really imagine yourself waiting for a train, but I think the effect would have been enhanced if you couldn't just turn around and walk down the stairs back into the museum.  If they'd made it more of a tunnel to get to the installation, that would have been better I think.  As it is, it's quite good, so I'm nitpicking.  There's also some "peepholes" on the other side of the installation that make it appear that you're looking at staircases in the station - very clever.

Large drop-off in crowd size from the crime scene dioramas, which rather surprised me.  It's just one item to see, why not stick around and give it a look?  I was happy to have a bit more room on the "platform," so this is not a complaint, just an expression of confusion.

When: closing February 11, 2018

Before the Renwick was renovated, the Grand Salon upstairs was just that: a room where artwork covered the walls.  Now, most of what's happening is on the ceiling.  The Grand Salon is now a place where people lie on the floor.

I wish they had chosen a different room for this activity.  I don't know of another museum space with art displayed salon style here in DC (of course, I don't go to every museum, so perhaps there are many rooms like this, and I just don't know about them), and it would be nice to see a show set up this way.  But, there aren't any other rooms to lie on the floor and look at art on the ceiling either (again, so far as I know), so I'll appreciate the opportunity to do that.

This show is the winner of the 2016 competition "ABOVE the Renwick," and it's interesting enough.  The photograph is typical of what you see - if you move about, you see a slightly different angle and thus, a different work of art.  I liked it fine, but I didn't walk away in awe.

Verdict: All three shows are worth a look; if you can find a time when it's less crowded, that would make the Lee dioramas much easier to examine.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sometimes You Get What You Expect

Where: National Portrait Gallery, West Building

When: through January 7, 2018

As many exhibits of drawings as I've seen, I just can't warm to them.  I think it's the fact that they're not terribly colorful, and pen and ink just doesn't do it for me.  These are on loan from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, and are from artists working in what is now Belgium and the Netherlands.

The earliest works, in the first room of the show, are from the 1400s.  They are quite rare, only about 700 of them exist, so to see several examples is quite something.  Although I can't say these are antiquities, they are really old - the discovery of North America by Europeans was decades in the future.

Farther on, there are two rooms with Mannerist works, which is great if you like Mannerism, which I can take or leave.  I did like the Bruegel landscapes, so it's not as if there was nothing to catch my eye.

Verdict: Sometimes, I'm surprised at what I see at a show, but not in this case.  If you like drawing, check this out.  Otherwise, you can give it a quick skim, or pass it by entirely.