Monday, September 30, 2013

Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris

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

When: through January 5, 2014

Charles Marville (1813-1879) took up photography in 1850, following a lack of success in his first chosen profession, book and magazine illustration.  Photography was a relatively new medium at that time, having been invented only eleven years earlier.  When you look at the photographs in this exhibit, you are looking at the beginnings of an art form.

Marville photographed locations throughout France, Germany and Italy, but it was his photographs of his native city of Paris that earned him his acclaim and that served as his greatest inspiration.  The first room of the show focuses (no pun intended) on his early career.  Many of the shots are self-portraits.  He would set up the shot, then pose and have an assistant take the actual picture.  The wall notes suggest that his interest in posing in pictures, often as someone other than himself, in the guise of a dandy, for example, are evidence of his desire to re-make himself.  Born of humble parentage, he sought to rise above his lowly station.  That may well be true, or it might be he just found himself able to work well with his own figure as a part of the picture.  Whatever the reason, we are treated to several shots of European landscapes and ruins with the artist included.

By 1855, Marville developed a network of wealthy and important patrons.  In 1862, he became the official photographer of the city of Paris, and was tasked with documenting the city's re-birth under the Second Empire.  Napoleon III wanted to modernize Paris, to eliminate the narrow city streets and make everything more open.  The idea was to move air, water, people and goods more freely about the city.  In order to do this, a certain amount of destruction was necessary, and there were those who viewed the modernization as the end of the world they knew.  It was certainly the end of Old Paris.

One of the first targets of the modernization was the Bois de Boulogne.  It was transformed from a royal hunting ground to a public park, and Marville took pictures of the transformed space.  Ponds and streams were created, straight lanes were made into meandering walks, all so that city dwellers could have a taste of country life.  I couldn't help but be reminded of Marie Antoinette and her masquerading as a shepardess, as this was a fantasy of the countryside, rather than the reality.  Perhaps the fullest embodiment of this idea was the restoration of the Longchamps windmill.  Although no longer functional, it was picturesque, which was apparently all that mattered.

Marville, when not photographing destruction and new construction, did a number of sky and cloud studies.  Photographers of the time had great problems taking pictures of the sky, especially clouds.  I remember this from the Faking It show I saw earlier this year.  Marville did any number of experiments with photography, trying to get the sky and clouds right, and his are some of the first successful studies.

But mostly what Marville busied himself with was documenting the changing nature of the city of Paris.  In some cases, the photographs he took are the only existing record of streets that had run through the city for centuries.  Along with greater circulation, the wider streets would be harder to blockade, so there may have been more than one reason to change the look of the city.  On one wall is a reproduction of a map from 1871, showing the streets that were transformed - very little of the city was left untouched.  One photograph appealed to me very much, a photo of the Saint-Andre-des-Arts, a clump of buildings covered in advertisements.  This horrified those who were looking for a more homogenized aesthetic, and it, along with many other similar groupings of buildings, was torn down.

Along with the loss of character, was a loss of raw sewage running in the streets, the hazard of the unwary pedestrian.  On the one hand, one sees the romance of the old city, with its winding little streets and haphazard architecture, but on the other hand, there's nothing romantic about raw sewage.  After the modernization of the Second Empire came the Franco-Prussian War and the French Commune, so there was yet more re-building, and more to photograph.  Marville was also chosen to document the installation of "street furniture": lamps, fountains, benches, even public urinals.  His photographs of the street lamps are lovely.

Sadly, by the time Marville died in 1879, he, like the old city, had been replaced and forgotten.  The man who had been such an important part of documenting the city's transformation received not one single obituary.

Verdict: See this if you like photography or French history; it's an interesting examination of both.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fire & Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic

Where: National Postal Museum

When: through January 6, 2014

2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the 75th anniversary of the crash of the Hindenberg.  In honor of these melancholy remembrances, the Postal Museum has set up a display on both of them together, focusing on the postal angle in both.

Both vessels carried mail in order to underwrite their expenses, and both had post offices on board, along with postal employees.  It was a mark of social distinction to send a letter from the Titanic or the Hindenberg; it showed you were rich enough to travel on them!

There's plenty of information in this exhibit about both accidents: the terrible loss of life and the resulting popularization of the two incidents.  In addition to being disasters involving modes of transportation, they've both become 20th century icons.  Both are cases of the mighty falling, a reminder that human beings cannot always control nature.  We seem to get this lesson brought home to us every night on the news now, but there's something about the rich and elegant being forced to contend with forces beyond their control that grabs the imagination.

A Smithsonian connection in relation to the Hindenberg: it had sailed over the Mall before heading north to New Jersey, where it crashed.

A sad fact about the Titanic: all of the musicians in the band, the one playing "Nearer My God to Thee," perished in the shipwreck.

Verdict: Worth a visit if you are interested in the Titanic or Hindenberg - it also provides an opportunity to see the expanded museum.  There's now a set of galleries on the main floor, where the post office used to be.  Philatelists take note!

Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial

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

When: through January 20, 2014

The plaster copy of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial is on long-term loan to the National Gallery of Art, and there are no plans to remove it any time soon, so far as I know.  What will be closing on January 20 is the exhibit set up around it, which seeks to shed some light on the soldiers who fought with Shaw and whose stories have been lost in the attention give to their commander.

If you've seen the movie Glory, then you know the story of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the African-American regiment he commanded during the Civil War.  Although they were defeated at the battle of Fort Wagner, South Carolina, and lost 1/3 of their number, including Shaw himself, their dedication and bravery proved that African-Americans were every bit the fighting men that white soldiers were.

The memorial itself is worth an extended look - it's the first to feature not only the officer being remembered, but also the men he commanded.  Although the idea of honoring the common soldier is not controversial today, it had not been seen before this work was completed.  Booker T. Washington said of it that it stood "for effort, not victory complete."  The original bronze statute is in Boston, at the edge of the Boston Common.  The plaster copy on display at the National Gallery was exhibited at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1900, where it won an award.  It is considered to be one of the finest examples of 19th century American sculptures in existence.

The display around it focuses on the lives of soldiers in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and the efforts of civil rights leaders to encourage young African-American men to enlist.  Included are photographs of African-American soldiers from the time period.  I was reminded of the several exhibits I've seen over the past couple of years of Civil War portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery - that solemn expression on the soldier's face.

Verdict: I recommend this exhibit - it's small, so easily managed in a lunch hour.  It's not everyday you get to see an award-winning piece of sculpture, with an informative historical display.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Northern Mannerist Prints from the Kainen Collection

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

When: through January 5, 2014

The Kainens, a married couple, were great benefactors of the National Gallery, and this is the first of three shows highlighting works they have given.  And there's a lot to choose from in setting up these shows: beginning in 1975, they gave 1289 works to the National Gallery, then in 2012, Mrs. Kainen bequeathed another 781 works.  Thank you very much, Mr. and Mrs. Kainen, for sharing your collection with those of us able to the visit the gallery.

Mannerism flourished in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, in both Haarlem and Prague.  It was an artistic movement characterized by sophisticated, often obscure, subjects, elaborate compositions and an elegance that bordered on the distorted.  These are highly cerebral works, designed for those with a classical education, who could understand and appreciate them.

Hendrick Goltzius, from Haarlem,  specialized in mythological and allegorical subjects.  His deeply cut, individual lines, which vary in width, convey the appearance of volume, texture and tone.  The skill necessary to achieve such effects was as enticing to buyers as the subject matter of the prints.  The exactitude in these works made me think of them as a sort of anti-Impressionist movement.  One sees them as satisfying to create, but perhaps not much fun to draw?  There's no sense that the artists let himself go, so to speak, in creating these works.

The works of Bartholomaeus Spranger, from Prague, feature prurient but elegantly styled erotica, most notably the transgressions of the gods.  His works came from deep sustained curving lines that give an impression of a 3D surface.  To illustrate the difference between the two men, consider that both of them created a picture of Mars and Venus together.  Goltzius' work shows them being found out by Venus' husband, Vulcan.  Thus, adultery is punished.  In Spranger's work, the couple are shown together before their discovery, a far different picture.

Verdict: A small show, easily managed in a lunch hour.  Very interesting, if you like Mannerism or are curious to learn more about it.

Yes, No, Maybe: Artists Working at Crown Point Press

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

When: through January 5, 2014

This is an exhibit about the long slog, the terribly hard work that goes into making a work of art.  In case you thought that artists just woke up one day with an idea fully formed in their head for a great work of art, think again.  There's a vast deal of trial and error that goes into the creative process.  Inspiration is a factor, but perspiration is a given.  This show pulls back the curtain on the process, and lets the viewer seeing the workings behind the work.

Crown Point Press was one of the most influential printmaking studios of the late 20th century.  The works on display here were created between 1972 and 2010.  The first three rooms focus on the work of three particular artists; the final two rooms cover the work of many artists who were influenced by the first three.

The first room is devoted to the work of Chuck Close.  He set limits and restrictions on the work he would do, which he found gave him a kind of freedom.  It seems contradictory, but I understand what he means.  Sometimes, when you have unlimited choices, you become paralyzed.  You are unable to choose, which means you are trapped by your own indecision.  If you limit your options, you are then able to choose, able to work freely, within the constraints you've set.  His work involved pictures of heads - those of his friends and family and his own head.  A self-portrait is in the room, and I know I've seen it before, but where?  Perhaps it was in another show I saw at some point, or maybe it was on a website I visited.  I've been wracking my brain, but to no avail.  The perils of middle age...

Richard Diebenkorn, the focus of the second room, sets his course for "rightness," which I'm interpreting as a sort of "I'll know it when I see it" model.  He works in an incremental way on his pictures, until they are exactly to his liking.  It's interesting to see the changes he makes along the way to what's "right," although I confess there were points at which I might have made different choices.

The third room is devoted to the "art" of John Cage, who I've seen before and not liked.  This display does nothing to change my opinion.  He relies on chance, making no choices in his art, but allowing various outside influences, including the I Ching, to make the choices for him.  Please.  It's as if he wants to take no responsibility for his work; everything is the result of some other force.  You might just as well have a robot put paint to paper according to a computer program.  Note that he also "composes" music that consists of total silence.  Again.  Please.  I did find out that the works I'd always thought of as rings from a coffee cup are actually from a teapot, so I can't say I didn't learn anything.

Next we have a room entitled "Echoes," works by other artists that are reminiscent of or influenced by the first three artists.  One work, by Anne Appleby, with its squares of color, reminded me more of Ellsworth Kelly than of any of the work I'd just seen.

Finally,  the last room focuses on the title of the show: Yes, No, Maybe.  Some are things that worked, some are things that didn't and were abandoned and some are things that were never really resolved - where the journey is the destination.

Verdict: An interesting show, if you like to see what's going on behind the scenes.  If you don't care for John Cage, you can just skip his room entirely; there's nothing here that's going to make you sit up and take notice.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Searching for Goldilocks

Where: Air and Space Museum

When: through December 1, 2013

This is one piece, by Angela Palmer, designed to capture the work of the Kepler Space Observatory.  It is searching for "goldilocks" planets, ones that are not too hot and not too cold, and could, in theory at least, support human life.  Much to my surprise, it turns out there are any number of such planets that we've already discovered, and could be billions of them in the universe.

Palmer's piece is 18 sheets of glass with circles engraved on them to represent all the planets surveyed by Kepler.  Those that are "goldilocks" planets are a brighter white than those that are not.  It's a terrific way to see very quickly how many planets there are and how many might be hospitable to visitors.

According to the information displayed along with the piece itself, Angela Palmer has done quite a few very interesting pieces.  I'm hoping that the Smithsonian or the National Gallery might put on a show of her work, so I could learn more about her.

Verdict: This piece is located in the room that's housing the High Art exhibit, so you can easily add this to your trip.  It's interesting, and a nice combination of space exploration and art.

High Art: A Decade of Collecting

Where: Air and Space Museum

When: through January 1, 2014

Although I don't think of the Air and Space Museum as an art gallery, it does have the largest collection of aerospace-themed art in the country.  These 50 works on display are part of a 7,000 piece collection.  The display is divided into three parts: Visions of Flight (which is largely abstract art with a flight motif), Faces of Flight (which are portraits of people involved in the history of flight or space exploration) and Looking Back (which is art depicting important events in flight or space exploration).

The picture shown here is by Fran Forman, who took old family photographs and combined them with pictures from different cameras using a computer to put together her final works.  I don't know that I've seen her work before, but it did seem familiar somehow, as if I'd seen something like it in another exhibit.  One of Jeffrey Milstein's works, 49 Jets, is on display; I saw a show of his work at Air and Space a while ago and liked it.  I didn't think I'd have much interest in the undercarriages of airplanes, but for some reason they are intriguing.

Of the portraits, I think the ones of Carl Sagan and Neil de Grasse Tyson are the best.  Alan Bean also has a piece in this show, and I was happy to see him again.  I'd enjoyed the show of his work I saw several years ago, on what might have been my first trip back to Air and Space since childhood.

Verdict: A nice show, manageable in a lunch hour.  Worth a stop, especially if you're here anyway for the codex.

Leonardo da Vinci's Codex on the Flight of Birds

Where: Air and Space Museum

When: through October 22, 2013

I was tempted to call this blog post "Why the Sackler is better than the Air and Space Museum, " but realized I could go on forever detailing the many reasons why a trip to see Asian art in a tranquil setting is preferable to fighting your way through an army of screaming youngsters. I was reminded of the Sackler on my latest trip to Air and Space, however, and the comparison was all on the side of the Sackler.

Air and Space is currently playing host to a Leonardo da Vinci artifact, a notebook full of his observations of bird flight.  It's a remarkable item: it's hundreds of years old, it's an object that belonged to one of history's great geniuses and offers you the opportunity to see his handwriting, and the contents show the basic foundations of flight, long before the first airplane.  The commentary on the glass case says it best, "He saw the modern world before it was realized."  I'm delighted that I got to see this object and can't recommend enough to others to go and see it before it returns to Italy.

So how does the Sackler fit into this, and what's my beef with Air and Space?  It's all about the display.  You will remember that several months ago the Sackler was exhibiting the Cyrus Cylinder.  I can't possibly compare these two objects and tell you which is more important or valuable, but I can certainly say they're both priceless and vital to an understanding of the development of civilization.  They are amazing objects, and I am deeply aware of my great good fortune in being able to see them both, for free.

The Sackler set up a room for the Cylinder, painted in a dark blue color.  I didn't realize it at the time, but as I think back, the color itself served to quiet the crowds (not that they really need any quieting in the Sackler) and set a tone of seriousness.  You knew when you walked in that you were seeing something important.  The lighting was fantastic; it illuminated the Cylinder, without being too stagey.  The whole thing was very well done.

Air and Space, on the other hand, has put the da Vinci Codex in a room devoted to a display of Wright Brothers memorabilia.  I understand the tie in - the codex is all about flight, and the Wright Brothers were the first to fly a plane.  The problem is that the codex is put at the end of the exhibit, and it looks like an afterthought.  You assume that they needed a place to put the codex, and the glass case which encloses it (which is quite large), and this just seemed like a place they had some extra room.  There's a guard standing next to the case, so you do have the sense that this is an important object, but they've surrounded it with a busy display about something else.  Plus, it's right by the exit, so it doesn't encourage lingering.  And it's against a wall, so you can't walk around to get another view.  Surely they must have had quite a bit of notice that the codex was coming, was this really the best they could do?

Note that tickets are required to enter the display.  Signs indicated that you could pick these up at the IMAX theater box office, but I just walked into the room and someone was distributing them at the entrance.  If you go on a weekend, things may be different.  It seemed as if they had overestimated the interest in the codex and were trying to exercise crowd control.  It wasn't necessary on the day I went, but it might be useful as the time for the codex to leave draws closer.

The codex is part of the Year of Italian Culture.  I remember that the display of David/Apollo was also part of this celebration to take place throughout 2013.

Verdict: Go to see this object, despite the poor display.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Grand Procession: Dolls from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection

Where: National Museum of the American Indian

When: through January 5, 2014

This show is in the small exhibit gallery on the 2nd floor, which means that I could take a bit of time to look at each doll on display.  When the NMAI has a big exhibit in their 3rd floor space, I'm rushing to see everything in a lunch hour.

There are five artists' work on display here, including three artists from one family: a grandmother, mother and daughter.  All of the artists have won awards for their dolls, so what you're seeing is top-flight craft.

A Grand Procession opens every powwow and is an opportunity for members of a tribe to don their regalia and dance into the arena.  This was a tradition of the Plains and Plateau tribes in the 1700s and 1800s.  These dolls from the Diker Collection are doing much the same thing, albeit in a static way.  Happily, most of the dolls are in display cases that allow you to see them from all sides.  There is as much ornamentation on the back as there is on the front.

Jamie Okuma is the first artist featured.  She is quoted as saying, " Each piece has lived through whatever was going on in my life at the time I was making it."  There is a piece of her biography in each doll.  The faces on her dolls are basically blank.  One is not distracted by the face of the doll, and so can concentrate on the incredible craftsmanship that goes into each piece.  The costumes are amazing, especially considering how small they are.  Rhonda Holy Bear does paint faces on her dolls; they wear expressions that seem to show both serenity and determination.

The Growing Thunder family's dolls make up the rest of the show.  Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty and her mother, Joyce Growing Thunder both had dolls on display in the "A Song for the Horse Nation" show that was at NMAI some months ago.  The faces on these dolls are also quite generic, so you notice the bead and quill work on the costumes.  Jessa Rae Growing Thunder is the daughter of Juanita; all of them create dolls that are very much in the same style.  I'd be hard pressed to tell one from the other.  Juanita is quoted as saying, "You can't do it if you are upset.  You make mistakes and have to backtrack."  This reminded me quite strongly of the show I saw at African Art several years ago about basket weaving.  One of those artists was quoted saying almost the same thing.  Clearly, the tortured lives of the great painters means you can toss paint around no matter your mood, but for work as intricate as this - you need to be as serene and determined as Rhonda Holy Bear's dolls look.

Verdict: If you have any interest in Native American art or dolls in general, do not miss this amazing collection of artwork.

Mr. TIME: Portraits by Boris Chaliapin

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through January 5, 2014

TIME magazine used to feature artwork on its cover, not photography, as we generally see today, but a reproduction of a painting of one of the people discussed in the issue.  Although the magazine used many artists to create its cover art, Boris Chaliapin earned the moniker of Mr. TIME, as he created over 400 covers.  Part of the reason he was tapped so frequently was that he could create a cover in a matter of a few days.  Once, he was able to knock out a piece in 12 hours.

This show features 26 of his covers, and not only displays his work over the course of his career with TIME (1942 - 1970), but also shows who was considered important during that era.  There are politicians and actors, soldiers and religious leaders.  One of his subjects was Julia Child, with whom he became lifelong friends.

What's interesting is not simply the portrait, but also the background.  You don't notice it at first, but it's part of the full picture and well worth noticing.  I learned that Richard Nixon holds the record for most TIME cover appearances at 55.  That's a lot of Nixon.

Verdict: A small show, you could see this and another smaller display in a lunch hour with no problem.  Worth a look, especially if you're interested in prominent figures of the mid-20th century. 

Landscapes in Passing: Photographs by Steve Fitch, Robbert Flick, and Elaine Mayes

Where: American Art Museum

When: through February 23, 2014

When one thinks of the American landscape, one generally thinks of dramatic natural beauty: the coastlines, the Rocky Mountains, the Mississippi River, the National Park System.  There is another American landscape, however, and this is what is on display in this interesting show now on at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum.

Rather than focusing on the purple mountains' majesty or the amber waves of grain, the artists featured here have concentrated on the man-made landscape, what you see out the car window as you travel down the interstate or make your way through town.  You'll never mistake these for one of Ansel Adams' prints, but they are none the less American for that.  Dare I say it, they are perhaps more American, as we've all seen the views on display in this show, but not all of us are fortunate enough to wander the forest primeval.

The photographs here were taken between 1971 and 1980 (not a time period that I associate with much beauty).  They are framed by car windows and regulated by the grid of city streets and the interstate highway system.  This is drive-through scenery, and there is nothing pristine about it.

Elaine Mayes took a cross-country trip from San Francisco to Amherst, Massachusetts and produced the pictures of "Autolandscapes" along the way. "Normally we experience our outdoor American environment by car," she's quoted as saying.  For better or worse, that's true enough.  Whenever the landscape changed, she took a picture with the car in motion.  The last photo is of a driveway, presumably the house in Amherst to which she was traveling.  There is a figure in the garage, walking out to meet her.  It seemed to me that this says something about the purpose of long journeys - we travel to see someone at the other end of the drive.

Steve Fitch's pictures are entitled "Diesels & Dinosaurs."  He photographs the creatures he encounters on his travels: roadside attractions with dinosaurs and snakes, monster trucks, even the Wigwam Motel in Arizona.  Some of his encounters are with real animals (apparently, there are any number of snake handlers that set up shop by the side of the road), others are with figures we've constructed for our own purposes.  All are part of the American landscape.  The show starts with a story Fitch relates, dealing with a disagreement between his father and his grandmother.  She thought they should take shelter from a lightning storm, while he was certain they'd be fine in his Buick.  Grandma insisted God could strike them dead, regardless of the car.  "Who was more powerful?" Fitch wondered, "Grandma's God or Dad's Buick?"  Yet another chapter in the endless contest of man versus nature.

Robbert Flick's "Sequential Views" is the result of a 1980 documentary survey of Los Angeles, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.  These photos approximate the way that one actually encounters the streetscape in everyday life - each block has a photograph; when you look at a grid of pictures, you feel as if you're driving down the street.  It reminded me of Google Street View, or a 1980 version of it.  These may not be the images one calls to mind when thinking of LA, but they are LA nonetheless.

Verdict: Good show, easily managed in an hour - well worth a look for a picture of the America that is perhaps less photogenic than the one most often pictured.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Art of Little Golden Books

Where: Museum of American History

When: through January 5, 2014

Who doesn't remember the Little Golden Books?  Those staples of childhood reading, with their simple stories and colorful pictures - they may no longer sit on our shelves, but they live on in our mind's eye.  This show, in the Small Documents Gallery (which, remember, is not called Small because of its size, but because of the donor for whom it is named), showcases pieces from the museum's collection of original Little Golden Book items, including the books themselves.  The Western Publishing Company, who published the books, donated this collection to the museum in 1992, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the books' debut.

The books were meant to extend reading and literacy to the middle classes.  In the 1920s, progressive educators stressed the importance of childhood literacy, and in the 1930s, Eleanor Roosevelt picked up the cause in her column, "My Day," advocating for family reading.  Whereas prior to their appearance, children's books were expensive enough that only the wealthy could afford them, the Little Golden Books, priced at only 25 cents, were affordable to a much wider audience.

Many of the books depicted children performing adult roles.  Girls were shown cooking and cleaning house, while boys were shown performing various jobs, including manual labor and public sector work.  I wonder if they might not be shown as young venture capitalists now.  There was also some very early product placement.  Two books featuring medical jobs (doctor for boy, nurse for girl, of course), came with bandages, a nice bit of advertising for Band-Aid.

There was not much in the way of diversity in the books.  Any non-white people depicted were always shown in stereotypical roles - servants, for example.  Of course, this was before the civil rights movement of the 1960s, so one is not really surprised.  Still, the difference between the Little Golden Books and what my niece (who is 8) reads today is vast.

One of the series that I must have missed is a book entitled Gaston and Josephine, a book about two French pigs who emigrate to America.  With all the fun they seem to have on the ship across the Atlantic, it sounds much better than reading a book about cleaning!

I was happy to see that the museum has gone out of its way to entice people into this out-of-the-way space.  There are large reproductions of the covers in the hallway leading to the Gallery, and even a "book nook" with copies of the books, and benches for reading.

Verdict: Well worth a stop; it's a small show and will bring back many memories.

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Where: American Art Museum

When: through January 5, 2014

This show celebrates the 30th anniversary of the American Art Museum's photography collection.  It is composed of 100 of the museum's over 7,000 photographs.  The show is divided into several sections: American Characters, Spiritual Frontier, America Inhabited and Imagination at Work.  I found some photographs clearly fit in the categories to which they were assigned, and others I thought were a bit of a stretch - perhaps a "miscellaneous" category would have been helpful?

Walt Whitman is quoted as having said that photography is a quintessentially American activity and, now that I think about it, perhaps he's right.  When I think of great photography, I do tend to think of Americans.  Of course, that might be that I live here and am exposed (no pun intended) to more American photography than works from other countries.  In any event, there is lots of American photography to see, and this show offers up plenty.

Of course, there is an Ansel Adams piece; no points for picking him out of a crowd.  He's one of the few black and white photographers whose work I just love.  I don't even try to imagine what his shots would look like in color, which is saying something for someone so enamored of color as I am.

I was quite proud of myself for recognizing a set of Harry Callahan pieces.  I went to a retrospective of his work at the National Gallery a while back, and I knew his wife Eleanor as soon as I saw her in one of those terribly unflattering poses.  I admire her dedication to her husband's art; surely it must be dedication, as no one would pose for those pictures thinking they would look attractive.

Another familiar photographer on display is William Wegman, with a set of greyhound pieces.  I don't have strong feelings about Wegman (or about greyhounds, for that matter), so I've never been quite sure what all the fuss is about.  I envy his ability to get his dogs to sit still long enough to take a picture, but I wouldn't spend a fortune to buy one of his photographs.

A piece that I might have overlooked is one by Walker Evans.  It's entitled, "Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead" and is part of the series of photographs he took for the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.  I just read an article in a magazine about that project, so I spent a bit more time with the photo than I would have otherwise done.  It's not an action photo, but it does paint quite a picture of people making do with very little, of desperate times calling for desperate measures.

Another artist featured is Eadweard Muybridge; his piece is one of a western landscape.  His first name is spelled in such an unusual way, that I feel as if I've seen it before - possibly in the show (in the same space) of pictures of the American West?

Verdict: A large show, but worth spending the time to see some very fine photography.