Sunday, August 27, 2017

Yet Another Trip to the Hirshhorn

Where: Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden

When: closing dates throughout September 2017

There are times throughout the year when there seem to be so many exhibits closing so soon that I can hardly make time to see them all.  Right now is one of those times.  I usually set aside two days per week to visit museums, but lately, I've had to increase my attendance at the Smithsonian and National Gallery.  My yoga practice has suffered, I'm sorry to say, and I'll be glad when things settle down a bit.  Of course, this is a great (First World) problem to have.

One of the museums that's got lots of shows closing in September is the concrete donut.  In addition to the Yoko One pieces, there's also a "Masterworks" show and an exhibit of Markus Lupertz works.

I went over to the museum I love to hate on Tuesday and saw a Yoko One item I hadn't seen with my niece when we visited last week.  It was called Sky TV, and that's exactly what this is.  It's a TV set showing the sky.  The wall notes tell me Ono got the idea for this when she lived in a windowless apartment in New York City and longed to see the sky.  It occurs to me that, if you're seeing this in a museum, you've been outside and been able to see the sky "live," so perhaps this isn't the best way to show it.  Maybe it should be something you could see on your own TV, like the fireplace log burning that they show on TV on Christmas Day?  Or something you could stream on your computer?

I also saw the "Masterworks" show, which I think I've seen before.  "Big Man" was out front, with his baleful stare.  Hard to say he's welcoming you, but when you see him, you know you're at the entrance.  "The Weight of History" is also here, where the artist depicts the writings of history's monsters as blocks of toner - the longer the tracts, the bigger the block.  Hitler is the biggest, for what it's worth.  "Venus of the Rags" is here too, which makes me smile.  I thought their Yinka Shonibare piece was included (as it should be), but I didn't see it.  Perhaps it's on loan?

Finally, I went to the Lower Level and saw the Markus Lupertz exhibit.  This is a survey of his works from the 1960s and 1970s.  They weren't really to my taste, to be blunt.  He's a Neo-Expressionist, which seems to be similar to being an Abstract Expressionist, as nothing's terribly attractive.  I do appreciate his works condemning war and militarism, particularly German militarism, responsible for so much of the 20th century's loss of life.  Still, a little of this goes a long way.

Verdict: It's the Hirshhorn; expect little, and the few things worth seeing will be that much more worthwhile.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Artfulness of the Everyday

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building

When: through September 4, 2017

This photo shows my view as I walked up to the Tower (now called Tower 3) to see the Theaster Gates exhibit.  "What on earth is this?" was my reaction.  As I approached, I saw it was a gigantic bookshelf, really a book-box, as it had four sides and a space in the middle.  All of the books are bound volumes of Ebony magazine.  I'm not entirely certain what this means, but it was intriguing.

There are several other pieces in this room, with a map on the wall to tell you what each piece is.  It's a bit confusing to figure out, so I just stood back and took it all in.  There are more pieces in the room with the elevator just off this room, and they were a bit tricky to decipher as well.

One of the wall notes read that the artist "...stakes a claim for the artfulness of the everyday."  I don't really have anything to add to that, other than to say the pieces are well-executed and hold your attention.

Verdict: If you don't mind the time it takes to get to Tower 3, I'd recommend looking at this small show. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Day with my Niece


I spent Friday with my niece, and we went to the Botanic Garden and to the Hirshhorn.

I chose the Botanic Garden because they have three corpse flowers that are ready to bloom.  See the picture in the bottom left for a look at the most advanced of the specimens.  It hadn't actually started blooming when we went to see it, and I'm not sure if I'm glad or disappointed.  It was pretty impressive, even with no odor, but I feel as if we didn't really get the "full Monty."  Of course, we also didn't have to experience the stench, and on a hot day like Friday, that was probably a good thing.  And we didn't have to wait in line for hours to get in either, so all in all, I'm think I'm going to go with glad.

We walked around the whole garden, at least the inside part, and I realized I hadn't visited since 2010.  They've made some improvements since the last time I was there, and I was reminded of what a lovely venue it is.  One of those places that lowers my blood pressure as soon as I walk in the door. Although I love my office location, as it allows me to walk to the Mall on my lunch hour, I do wish the Botanic Garden were closer.

After lunch, we went to the Hirshhorn.  "That's an odd choice," those of you who read the blog regularly might be thinking, since I usually miss no opportunity to bash the concrete donut.  In this instance, we went to see the Ai Weiwei show, which I recommend.  He's created portraits of dissidents from around the world, done in Legos.  What I didn't realize until we went, was that this is the same show he put on in Alcatraz.  I was sorry to miss that, so very glad to see it here.  I think I would have gotten more out of it, if I had known more of the people portrayed (I knew Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King), but that's my fault, not Ai's.

We also saw the Yoko Ono pieces about mothers (in the main lobby) - people put up comments about their mothers on a big wall, and her Wish Tree in the sculpture garden.  We put up our own wishes (mine was for civility in political discourse - good luck to me with that), which was fun.

All in all, a great day, despite the heat.  

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.