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. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The American Landscape Isn't All Out West

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through July 16, 2017

When I think of great American landscapes, my mind inevitably turns to the West: Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains.  What I forget is that the Eastern part of the U.S. has great landscapes too.  Having spent a lifetime in the Mid-Atlantic, there's no excuse for my overlooking the natural beauty so near by!  Happily, this show has opened my eyes, and I hope will open those of others before it closes in another week.

This collection of 19th century photographs starts with early daguerreotypes, some of which are so sensitive to light that they are covered with little curtains.  I found it hard to see the images but didn't want to stare too long for fear of making matters worse, so gave these only a quick glance.

The next room featured stereographs - which reminded me strongly of my old "Viewmaster Viewer."  Two identical images set side-by-side create a 3-D image, if you look at them with a special viewer.  Great fun, largely due to the trip down memory lane.

There were also several examples of photographs and paintings of the same view, exhibited together - a great idea I thought, showing how artists in different media see the same thing.

The Civil War got a bit of space as well, not surprising, since it was the first war to be photographed.  Just as Vietnam brought the war to America's living rooms by way of television, people were far more aware of what was happening in this conflict due to photography.

I noticed among the offerings, several from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  It made my wonder how often the two institutions share things for special exhibits - are they more colleagues than competitors?

Verdict: A fine show, one worth seeing.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Like Father, Like Daughters

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

When: through July 16, 2017

Ian Woodner was an art collector, especially fond of drawings.  He began collecting in the 1940s, and did not limit himself to any particular historical period.  His daughters, Dian and Andrea, joined in his passion, and gave a substantial portion of his collection to the National Gallery in 1990, after Ian's death.  In addition, they have promised more pieces to the NGA, some of which are on display in this show.

It covers a wide span of time, from the 1300s through to the present.  I was very happy to see some Durers among the offerings; I love the precision of his works.  A piece entitled "Initial Q with a Procession of Children" by Zanobi Strossi caught my eye - painted in 1430, but vividly colorful.

Leonardo da Vinci was among those present, with "Grotesque Head of an Old Woman," pretty far away from the Mona Lisa - more like something out of Dr. Seuss. Hendrick Avercamp's "Winter Games on the Frozen River Ijsse" I saw in the small exhibit of art from the "little ice age" period.  I very much like seeing things again - makes me feel full of artistic knowledge to recognize something.

Louis-Leopold Boilly's "The Public in the Salon of the Louvre, Viewing the Painting of the 'Sacre'" was a piece I liked, as it depicts people in a museum, a subject of which I never tire.  In the final room, we had modern pieces, including two I recognized by Louise Bourgeois.

Verdict: Although I'm not a big fan of drawings as an art form, I do recommend this show.  Nicely arranged (chronological order - my favorite kind) and a fine tribute to one family's generosity.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Saying Good-bye to the Sackler

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through July 9, 2017

As many readers may know, the Sackler Gallery is my favorite Smithsonian museum.  I've loved it for years, full of beautiful Asian art, both in its permanent collection and in the special exhibits it hosts.  I'm always excited when I see a new show is coming, as it gives me an excuse to visit once again.

My visit yesterday was a melancholy one; the museum is closing on July 10 for three months.  So no Sackler to welcome me into its cool interior through the heat of the DC summer!  You will doubtless recall that the Freer has been closed for quite a while now (I think about 15 months, although it seems much longer...).  Now that the big renovations are done there, both spaces will be closed for a time in order to reorganize and reinstall the entire collection.

It's hard to view this closure as a good thing, but as much as I will miss it in the short run, in the long run this is the right thing to do.

I saw many things while on this visit, including the exhibit of three immense paintings by Utamaro: Snow at Fukagawa (missing for nearly 70 years before turning up in Japan recently)Moon at Shinagawa (purchased by Charles Lang Freer and now in the Freer's collection) and Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara (owned by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut).  Reunited after 140 years apart, these three paintings would be wonderful separately, but are astounding together.  Each piece bears close examination; if you saw them every day, you would find new elements with every look.  The entrance to the display is marvelous - big banners with examples of both Western and Asian art, all of tall, beautiful women.

I thought it a nice touch that, at the end of a show glamorizing the "pleasure quarters" of Edo, the Sackler included some information on the reality of these women's lives.  Needless to say, the truth is rather less pretty.

This is the Cosmic Buddha, a Chinese work from about 575.  I love antiquities and the connection they provide to people living so long ago, in circumstances so different than our own.  One thing we have in common is art, and this is a lovely example.  Although the sculpture is old, the technology now being used to study it is new - 3D printing is allowing scholars to examine this piece in great detail.  There's a bit you can actually touch (and you know how much I love tactile exhibits) that's been printed with a 3D printer, and you can even order your own Cosmic Buddha online!

This is Ganesha, one of the most popular Hindu gods; his elephant head makes him easily identifiable.  He is revered as the remover of obstacles, which is probably another reason for his popularity - who doesn't need some help removing obstacles in life?  He and this Buddha below (I really like his blue hair) are part of the permanent collection.  I hope they'll be back on display in October.

The last piece I saw on my visit was this one (see below) from Michael Joo.  It's in the entryway, so you can't miss it.  I took the time to read the wall notes, and it's a representation of cranes that winter in the DMZ between North and South Korea.

Verdict: Visit the Sackler before it closes for renovations.  And be sure to visit again in October when it re-opens!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Unanswered Question of Frederic Bazille

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building

When: through July 9, 2017

I had heard of Bazille before I went to see this show, and I'm pretty sure I'd seen at least one of his works at the National Gallery, but I wasn't really familiar with his work, in the way that I am with the bigger names of Impressionism.

I suspect that's true of many people as regards Bazille: vague sense, but no real knowledge.  This show should change that, and that's a worthy goal.  The one thing the show doesn't do, and perhaps it really can't do it, is answer the great question of Bazille's life: why did he give up a promising artistic career, leave his friends behind and join the army to fight in the Franco-Prussian War?  It was a decision with tragic consequences, as he was killed in his first battle.

Bazille had a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing.  His parents wanted him to be a doctor, and he studied medicine for several years before giving it up to become an artist.  He became friends with a who's who of Impressionist luminaries: Monet, Renoir, etc.; he lived, worked and exhibited with them throughout his very brief career.

The show begins with several portraits, then moves on to still lifes, including one called "The Dog Rita, Asleep" which caught my eye, as Rita looks very much like my own dog, Sherlock.  I would have taken a picture, but it was labeled as "no photography,"  so I was out of luck.

His largest, and in my opinion, best work comes towards the end.  The Family Gathering is considered his masterpiece, and it is wonderful.  It's the sort of painting that makes me imagine a backstory for those pictured; I think there's more going on than just a family enjoying the sun on a summer afternoon. Summer Scene and another piece of a fisherman (I've forgotten the name now) are also marvelous.

The show ends with a room of floral paintings, which seems sort of tacked-on, as if there wasn't any other space for these, so they were put in where they fit.  I think it would have been better to end with the large works, but I understand that sometimes, the physical space has other demands.

Verdict: I highly recommend this show; a welcome exploration of an overlooked artist.