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.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Tribute to Dizzy Gillespie

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through November 26, 2017

I figured something would pop up soon with a closing date before the end of the year, and sure enough, here's a portrait of Dizzy Gillespie to celebrate the centennial of his birth.

It's in the "Celebrate" space, which you will doubtless recall is also the "In Memoriam" space.  I make it a point to see these offerings as quickly as possible, as you never know when a famous person will die and you'll be out of luck.

The thing I like most about the piece is that Gillespie is pictured at an angle.  It's an innovative way to show an innovative musician, and it's large enough that you feel as if you're in the smoky jazz club with him.

Verdict: Good portrait of an important American.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Art of Light

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: through January 7, 2018

There's a wild show up at SAAM, and each time you go, it will be different.  It's a display of light art by Thomas Wilfred, basically colors and shapes in motion.  Although you could watch some of the pieces from beginning to end, others take literally years to complete a loop, so no matter how often you visit or how long you stay, you'll never see the whole thing.

Wilfred started creating these pieces (for lack of a better word) in 1919, and people went to theaters to view them.  I could not help but wonder, "Is this because they are mesmerizing works of art or because this was a new technology and they would watch anything, just to use it?"  This is how I view most of 1950s television; people would watch plate-spinning because it was on TV, not because it was such gripping entertainment.

I'll say this, it's very conducive to meditation; you just watch the colors swirling, and pretty soon you feel calmer.  I can see it working very well in office building lobbies. Note that, ironically, the space where the show is located is quite dark, so you might want to wait for your eyes to adjust before plunging in.

Verdict: It's intriguing in its own way; even if you're in the museum to see something else, it's worth walking through.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Making Sense of the Fantastic

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through December 3, 2017

Jean Honore Fragonard was a well-known French painter of the 1700s, and his "fantasy figures" have been long admired.  Full of color and exuberantly painted, they're fun art - when the world is getting you down, these portraits will let you forget your cares for a while.  And anything that can lighten the mood in 2017 is worth seeing.

Uncertainty surrounded these paintings for many years until a sketch of 18 portraits turned up for auction in 2012.  Identified with names (presumably of the sitters or the commissioners of the work), the sketch answered the question, "Are these real people, or pure imagination?"

In addition, a painting of a young woman reading a book (my favorite of the group) has been scanned as part of a two-year investigation.  It turns out, the original work had the woman's face turned towards the viewer; the final painting shows her in profile.  Why the change?  It's possible the sitter didn't care for the work, and Fragonard had to re-purpose it.  Whatever the reason, I like it as it is.  We, the viewers, observe the woman reading, but we do not disturb her concentration.

Verdict: A fun escape into colorful costuming; a one-room show easily managed in a lunch hour.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Worshipping Color

Munch self-portrait
Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Ground Floor

When: through January 28 2018

If you're like me, you know that Edvard Munch was a Norwegian artist who painted "The Scream."   Turns out, he was much more than that.  He was also someone who believed that colors had certain powers and could see auras around people.  Oh my.

This small show (two rooms, about 20 works) shows several familiar Munch works, with discussion of the meaning of the colors he used.  The one pictured, which I remembered from another Munch show I'd seen some time ago, is a self-portrait, most noticeable for a lack of color.  That, and the skeleton arm at the bottom, that's pretty noticeable as well.

Interesting that at the same time that science was making advances, spiritualism should also enjoy a vogue.  Truly, the 19th century was one of contradictions.

I find Munch's work a bit hard to relate to, our shared Norwegian background notwithstanding.  The fact that he seems to have been a bit of a nut doesn't make it any easier.

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Concourse Gallery

When: through December 13, 2017

On the same day that I saw the Munch display, I also saw an installation of works by Matthias Mansen called "Configurations."  It's tucked away in that small room by one of the elevators, just as you leave the West Building and enter the concourse to go to the East Building.  They do nothing to direct your attention to the space; if you didn't know you needed to look in here, you'd figure it was just a small elevator lobby.  They need to put up a sign directing people to look in here.

I couldn't really relate to this show either.  It's large scale woodcuts, so it dovetails nicely with the Library display I blogged about last week.  I'm just not sure what it is, or what it's supposed to represent.  I think the set of nine similar pieces are meant to be self-portraits, but I'm not sure.  I have not even a guess about the others.

Verdict: If you're a fan of Munch, the show of his works is worth seeing.  Otherwise, you can skip it; many of the pieces have been exhibited before. As for the Mansen, if you like woodcuts, you should check this out on your way to see the Library display.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Woodcut Illustrations

Where: National Gallery of Art Library, East Building

When: through January 5, 2018

The Library at the NGA has another small display in the glass cases in the library reading room.  So lovely to escape the crowds and look at some of their holdings.  The current offerings are examples of woodcuts, including one of Durer's (hooray).  These are pieces from the apogee of woodcuts as an art form, and if you are a fan of woodcuts, or a student of art history, this is worth seeing.

Verdict: Probably for the hardcore art historian, but also a way to become acquainted with the medium.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Best Thing I've Seen Ever at the Postal Museum

Where: National Postal Museum

When: through January 1, 2018

Okay, first of all, how is it that I'm already seeing things closing in 2018!?!?  I'm sure both the National Gallery and the Smithsonian will add in more shows that will close in November and December, but at the moment, there are none.  There are exhibits closing in October, and then it's on to January.  Crazy.

I confess, I'd considered eliminating the Postal Museum from my rounds not too long ago.  It's inconvenient to get there for a lunch hour visit, and the shows are usually, well, kind of dull.  The sort of thing I would probably review more kindly if it didn't take me so long to get there and get back.

But, wow.  This show, called "Post Secret: The Power of a Postcard," is amazing.  Truly amazing.  The Post Office has a program, whereby anyone can send an anonymous postcard to Frank Warren, the found of the program.  On the postcard, the sender writes a secret that is both absolutely true and has never been shared before.  The project started in 2004, when Warren handed out postcards to strangers within a mile of the museum (by which time, I had changed jobs and moved across town, hence I knew nothing about this).  He's written books full of the cards he's received and he posts new ones at this blog: https://postsecret.com/.  If you can't get to the show, check this out.

The photo above is of one of the object people send in, in addition to postcards.  I love everything about it, except obviously, that this person has a Mom with a boyfriend he/she hates.  But, it really grabbed me - the colors and the whimsy of the plate, juxtaposed with the pain of the message.  Fantastic.

Verdict: You've got plenty of time to see this show, and if you won't be in DC before January, check out the blog.