Thursday, April 23, 2015

Visitors at American Art

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: through August 16, 2015

Tucked away in a corner, surrounding the Adams Memorial, is an exhibit of 19 paintings lent by Thelma and Melvin Lenkin that will be on display for about four months.  Rather than being put in a separate room or display area, they've been integrated into the museum's collection of 19th century art.

There are no introductory wall notes to tell you anything about the Lenkins or their collection; I just walked around until I saw some pieces with a notation that they were lent by the Lenkins, counted up 19 items and decided I'd found the exhibit.  I'm sure there's some valid curatorial basis for this decision, but I must say, it's an odd way to display these works of art.  Many of them are excellent, and apparently, some of them have never been on public display before.  Why not make them easier to find?

Once you do hunt them out, you'll be rewarded for your efforts with some fine pieces.  An artist previously unknown to me, Everett Shin, could be mistaken for Degas.  His dancer paintings have the same backstage angle and play of light on the performers' faces.  I also saw a George Bellows work of a tennis tournament in Newport - he's not all Ashcan boxers!

Perhaps my favorite piece was by John Singer Sargent.  Entitled "Spanish Gypsy Dancer,"  it reminded me strongly of his work "El Jaleo" which I saw at the Gardener museum in Boston several years ago.  The dancer's attitude and her arm gestures were strikingly similar I noted in the little blank book I bring with me on my visit to museums.  Imagine my satisfaction at reading those same ideas on the piece's wall notes.  I'm getting the hang of this art criticism business!

Verdict: Take the time to find this collection of very good paintings before they return to private hands.

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