Saturday, November 29, 2014

From Neoclassicism to Futurism: Italian Prints and Drawings, 1800–1925

Where: National Gallery of Art

 When: February 1, 2015

It's been a while since I saw this show - I wasn't very impressed with it, so it was hard to summon up the energy to write a blog post, especially since I had holiday-related activities to occupy my time.

The wall notes tell you that Italian art from this period (Napoleonic Era through the creation of the Italian nation up to the rise of Fascism) tends to be overlooked in favor of the art of other countries, particularly French art.  Considering that the Impressionists were working at this time, it's easy to see how other art might languish unnoticed.  On the other hand, if this selection is anything to go by, the Italians weren't really producing anything fabulous at this time, so maybe they have only themselves to blame?

The National Gallery is actively building a collection of Italian art from the 19th and early 20th centuries - let's hope that something more impressive arrives to represent the time period.

 Verdict: If you are a devotee of prints and drawings, or a scholar of Italian history, make time to see this exhibit.  Otherwise, don't let it interfere with your holiday plans.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Modern American Prints and Drawings from the Kainen Collection

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through February 1, 2015

I make a point of going to every new exhibit at the Smithsonian and National Gallery of Art, even if I think it's something that won't appeal to me.  I've discovered some wonderful things this way, most notably Yinka Shonibare, my favorite artist.  It had been a while since I'd been pleasantly surprised by a show, and as I looked at the description of this one, I confess I was less than enthused by the idea of seeing it.

But I'm nothing if not dedicated, so over to the National Gallery I went, and what should I discover but a new artist to like!  His name is Louis Lozowick, and I fell in love with his drawings, which are in the first room of this small show.  Some of his pieces show a tremendous precision of line, including Still Life #2 and others an exuberance of subject, like Luna Park.  All of them are quite fine, and I'll be on the lookout for more of his work in other exhibits I see.

Overall, I liked the works in the first room better than the later works, on display in the second room.  Post-WWII modern works just don't do it for me.

Verdict: This is a small display, so easily combined with something else on offer.  It's a nice overview of the Kainen's collection in this area, and we can look forward to seeing more of their generous gift in exhibits to come.

Untitled: The Art of James Castle

Where: American Art Museum

When: through February 1, 2015

It's not often that I see an exhibit and really have no idea what to make of it.  I might like something or dislike something, but I can't remember the last time I went to a show and had no idea whether I liked it or not.

Here's what I do know:  James Castle was a profoundly deaf man who never learned to communicate with others in any conventional way.  He could not read lips or use sign language, nor could he read or write.  He lived in rural Idaho with his family and created many drawings.  He used paper he found around his family's home and made a kind of ink out of soot and his own saliva.  His works depict the small town and farmland that were his surroundings.

So are these works of interest to us because we're trying to figure out what he's saying?  Or are they of interest because they stand on their own merits?  Would we put them in a museum or add them to private collections even if Castle were able to communicate in ways the general populace could understand?  Are they art, or are they a curiosity?  On another level, we're assuming that Castle is trying to communicate through his art, but is this really true?  Is there something he wants us to understand or is he merely passing the time?

I left the show with more questions than answers and a sense that the questions are not capable of being answered.  The one thing I can say is that James Castle's work is the ultimate example of outsider art.

Verdict: I'm not sure I have one, which is a first since I started writing this blog.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Room of Her Own: My Mother's Altar, an installation by Sandra Cisneros

Where: American History Museum

When: through January 12, 2015

This display is on the Second Floor, East Wing, in the American Stories area.  It is an ofrenda, or offering, something set up to honor a deceased person on the Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.  It's a Mexican custom, which has gained popularity and spread throughout Latin America and the United States.

The author Sandra Cisneros has set up this ofrenda to her mother, who loved museums, art and culture and wanted to be an artist.  Sadly, she never was able to do this, as she was busy raising her children.  Truly, a cautionary tale.  Don't put off pursuing your dreams, or dreams are all you will have.

The display is a wild mixture of the macabre and the kitschy, with an abundance of flowers to add some natural beauty. Cisneros is quoted as saying that creating this assemblage of her mother's personal possessions and mementos was a way to transform her grief over her mother's death into a celebration of her mother's life.

I understand why the museum has put this in the American Stories exhibit, as the story of Latin America is also the story of the United States.  The problem is that this is a display that would benefit from quiet reflection and examination, and the area is noisy and busy.

Verdict: I liked both this display and the idea of honoring deceased loved ones every year.  I'm not sure I'm ready to start creating my own ofrendas, but it's a nice reminder to keep those you love in your heart, so they won't be forgotten.