Saturday, August 27, 2011

Little Pictures, Big Lives: Snapshots from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art

Where: Archives of American Art

When: through October 3, 2011

The display area of the Archives of American Art is a room on the 1st floor of the American Art Museum, and because the space is fairly small, it's a great lunchtime excursion.

This display highlights the snapshots found in the papers and effects of American artists. They made photograph albums and carried around informal photos of friends and family, and this display puts many of these items together for public view. The description of the exhibit said that there is "a charm in capturing even the simplest of scenes," and I agree.

The snapshot album of Alexander Archipenko, a Russian sculptor, reminded me strongly of albums of my mother's. The careful labeling of pictures and the little corners stuck onto all of the photos were much the same. I suppose people don't really do this much anymore - everyone's pictures are on their phones or computers or in various emails.

I saw several photos of Alexander Calder, whose very interesting portrait exhibit just ended at the Portrait Gallery. I can see that the more exhibits I attend, the more overlap there will be between one show and another. A picture of the artist Walt Kuhn taken in 1911 in Ogunquit, Maine caught my eye. My husband and I visited Ogunquit once, and although the snapshot is now 100 years old (amazing a little snap could last that long), the view is not much changed.

Another quote from the notes that took my fancy: "As much as photographs appear to be a tissue of memory, they are also projections of all that we want to believe about ourselves and our connectedness to others." Photographs are faithful records of a moment in time, but how much that moment is reflective of the truth of our lives is another matter entirely.

Verdict: Do go see this small show. It's an easy lunchtime outing, and you'll probably have the space to yourself.

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