Friday, June 15, 2018

A Double Dip of Monet

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: closing July 29, 2018

The National Gallery occasionally borrows an artwork from another museum and puts it with the permanent collection.  It's usually something related to a work the NGA already owns.

Currently, a Monet painting of his garden at Vetheuil is on loan from the Norton Simon Foundation in Pasadena, CA.  It's on the left in the photo above.  It's smaller and is missing some elements included in the NGA's version on the right.

When I visited, a tour group was in the room, talking about the paintings, so I couldn't really examine them terribly closely.  In addition, a painter was there (you can see part of her canvas on the right of the snapshot), and I didn't want to interfere with her work.  Nonetheless, it was interesting to see the changes in the painting and to realize that painters will return to subjects to paint them in a different way.

Verdict:  Have a look the next time you're at the National Gallery.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

First Thing I Remember

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: closing July 8, 2018

The first thing I can remember in my life was waking up one morning, waiting for my mother to come into my bedroom to get me ready for the day.  When she didn't arrive, I went to her bedroom, to find her with the TV on.  Robert Kennedy had been killed the night before, and she was watching the news reports of his death.

That's now 50 years ago, which seems impossible, but there we are.  This lithograph by Roy Lichtenstein shows Kennedy as a young, energetic man with a message.  It exudes movement and urgency, a determination to make the world a different place.

This portrait was used on the cover of TIME magazine on May 24, 1968.

Verdict: Worth a look if you're at the Portrait Gallery.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Toiling Away

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: closing September 3, 2018

Museum quality portraits are usually of the high and mighty, but this show focuses on the workers of society.  Where else would you see a Richard Avedon photograph of an oil rig workers?

The wall notes at the beginning of the show set the tone for what will follow:  "Work serves as a foundation for the philosophy of self-improvement and social mobility that undergirds this country's value system."

I think that's quite true; the American Dream is that, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed in improving your financial situation and your social status.  What happens, however, when the dream is revealed to be just that: a dream?   Or when the amount of work required just to survive means there's no time for any quality of life?

This show offers the viewer the opportunity to look at work on different levels: as constantly changing due to new technology, as backbreaking and dangerous labor, as a place of common purpose and community.    It also demonstrates that physical labor may have changed over the centuries, but it is with us still.  The blacksmith is gone, but the migrant worker remains.

I was struck by the ambrotype "African American Woman with Two White Children" by an unidentified artist in 1860.  It reminded me strongly of some of the Sally Mann photographs I saw in her National Gallery retrospective recently.

I also saw a Yousuf Karsh, not of a famous person, but of two auto workers.  It was described as showing their friendship and ability to work together.  Am I the only one to pick up on an element of homoeroticism?

Finally, there was an Elizabeth Catlett piece, "Sharecropper."  I very much admire her work, so was happy to see another example.

This is mostly a combination of photography and paintings/prints.  There's also a video at the end and some sculpture.  I found the photographs, for the most part, less sentimental than the other works.  It's hard to romanticize a barefoot child working in a poorhouse, if you don't have license to add in a smiling face or cheerful sunshine.

Verdict: Very fine show; worth spending some time to see the art and the message behind it.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Taking a Glance at the Richter Archive

Where: National Gallery of Art Library, East Building

When: closing August 24, 2018

The National Gallery purchased the George Martin Richter Archive of Illustrations on Art in 1943.  To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of this important resource for artistic scholarship, the Library has put several items from the archive on display.

What appealed to me most was that Richter developed his own classification scheme for his collection.  That's the sort of thing that might appear easy to do, but is in fact incredibly difficult, especially as one's collection grows.  And this collection numbers about 60,000 items.

I also enjoyed seeing a photograph of a bullring in Madrid - included for its architecture.  It's not that I have any interest in bullfighting, but I remember this photograph from a show in 2011, and I always feel proud of myself for recognizing something I've seen before.

Verdict: Worth a look if you are interested in archival collections or the history of the National Gallery's holdings.

Monday, June 4, 2018

In Memoriam: Tom Wolfe

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: not certain, probably won't be up for long

I happened upon this portrait as I was taking a walk around the museum, not to see anything in particular, but just to get out of the office for a bit.

Tom Wolfe was an American author and journalist, associated with New Journalism.  There are any number of obits available, so I won't bother going into his life story.

This photo was taken by Yousuf Karsh, whose work I have admired in several shows at the NPG.  It's nicely constructed, with Wolfe in his signature white suit (he probably could have gone anywhere wearing something else and been unrecognized).  I like the juxtaposition of Wolfe and the artwork behind him.

Verdict: Not sure how long this will be on display; it's not even listed on the Smithsonian website.  If you want to see it, best not to wait too long.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

How Things Went Viral Before the Internet

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: closing August 5, 2018

There's a lovely display of majolica (or maiolica) at the National Gallery right now.  A perfect storm of printed images, tin-glazed ceramics created in Italy based on Islamic designs, and an interest in antiquities made the 15th century a fertile time for maiolica.

Printed images made their way to artists who took those pictures and translated them into ceramics.  The images were very colorful (my beef with prints is that they are usually monochromatic), eye-catching and popular.  One artist would see what another was doing and develop his own take on the original print.  The exhibit shows both the prints and the maiolica, so it's easy to see the movement from one medium to the other.

Much to my delight, there were Durer prints in the last room; I love his precision.  Some of that is lost in the ceramic "version," but I enjoyed seeing the transformation nonetheless.

Last week, I saw 19th century selfies; this week, 15th century viral images.  There really is nothing new under the sun.

Verdict: I liked this show; it's interesting and a good size for a lunchtime visit.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Selfies Are Nothing New

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: closing August 5, 2018

Selfies are a modern scourge, but they have historical antecedents.  For centuries, rulers have been using portraits to project an image of themselves to their subjects; selfies are just a way for everyone (high or low) to do something similar.

The Qajar dynasty in Iran knew very well the impact of a picture and used portraiture in the 19th century to demonstrate their power and nobility to their people.  A Turkic tribe who settled in northern Iran in the 13th century, they gradually conquered and united the country.  They ruled from the late 18th to the early 20th century.

In the 1800s, Iran and its traditional Persian conventions were influenced by European techniques in portraiture and by the advance of photography.  The Qajars used both to depict themselves; they managed to mix the old and the new in the pictures they distributed to their subjects.

Also on display is an example of a termeh cloth, a luxurious traditional Iranian handcraft.  Next to the cloth itself are photographs of Qajar rulers wearing termeh.  For an audience (myself included) that may not be familiar with this type of weaving, it's helpful to see an example to better understand the photographs.

Verdict: If you are interested in the history of portraiture or of Iran, check out this small show.