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.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Cats Were a Thing Even Before They Owned the Internet

Where: Archives of American Art

When: through October 29, 2017

The Archives of American Art is riding on the capacious coattails of Internet cats, in the interest of showing their collection of cat depictions.  Turns out artists own cats, like cats, take cats as subjects of their art and draw inspiration from cats.

So we who live in the age of the information superhighway didn't discover the many wonderful qualities of the cat, we have merely put them online and shared them with a wider audience.

Verdict: A fun small show that would pair admirably with the "Recent Acquisitions" exhibit for a lunch hour trip.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Party Time at the Hirshhorn

Where: Hirshhorn Museum

When: through October 1, 2017

Today's the last day for this show I really liked (imagine!) at the Hirshhorn.  It wraps around the 3rd floor inner circle of the concrete donut (which I found out today has an official nickname of the Brutalist Donut).

I love the vibrant colors and depictions of nature at the beginning and end of the day.  I walked around to look at the whole thing and was surprised how quickly I made the trip - sort of the opposite of one of their Bataan Death March exhibits.

Obama's remark after the 2016 election, that no matter what happened, the sun would rise in the morning was the inspiration for the work, which was created specifically for this space.

Verdict: Worth a look, if you're on the Mall today.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Look Back at the Future of America

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: through September 17, 2017

As I believe I mentioned when I blogged about the Kennedy photos at American History, it's hard for those of us who see the 1960s, particular the early 1960s, as history to realize how much it was the future to those living it.  The world was changing; a young new leader was taking over, and everyone was anticipating a new chapter in the American story.

Kennedy was the most photographed president ever, and for good reason.  He was photogenic, as was his wife and their two small children.  My favorite shot in the exhibit is one of JFK and Caroline.  Both in this show and in the photos at American History, the ones with her seem less staged, more real.  Her love for her father comes through, and I don't think a child that small can fake emotions.

The other aspect of the show that I loved was the emphasis on the arts.  JFK believed that the arts were a crucial part of American life, and Jackie was instrumental in both bringing the Mona Lisa to the National Gallery of Art for three weeks (I had no idea!) and in saving the Renwick - which I did know.

Verdict: A fine exhibit that gives the visitor a real look at a vibrant time.