Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sometimes, It's Both the Journey and the Destination

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: through April 10, 2016

I really enjoy going to the third floor of the American Art Museum; I love the floor tiles and the Victorian paint job and being in the what was once the largest room in America.  What's the largest room now, I wonder?

Even if the show I go to see isn't to my taste, I've still had the fun of the trip to the top of the museum.  Happily, my voyage to see modern art works from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection gave me the opportunity to see some great stuff, so in this case, I had more than the trek to enjoy.

Modern art was a movement all about rejecting certainties and substituting subjectivism, so it's a bit of a stretch for someone like myself, a fan of rationality, to embrace a style so non-linear.  Still, I go to museums to learn, to be exposed to new and different ways of seeing the world.  If I saw nothing but works from artists I already knew and liked, that wouldn't be much of an education, would it?

Georgia O'Keefe, an artist I just don't like (all those dead cow skulls and flowers that look like vaginas - how much of that can anyone take?), but the piece displayed here, "Pink Dish and Green Leaves" is not bad.  It incorporates a view of New York's East River, so no fear of deceased bovines,  and the leaves appear to be just leaves.

My old friend Henry Moore, he of "Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece," which greats you as you walk into the East Building of the National Gallery, was also on offer.  I didn't recognize his working model for "Draped Reclining Figure" when I first glanced at it, but once I read that it was by him, I saw it immediately.

I saw ceramics by Picasso - who knew he made ceramics, and statues by Elie Nadelman, who was new to me.  Some were in wood and some in bronze (my new favorite medium, after the National Gallery show).  And if that were not enough, I saw a piece by Elizabeth Catlett, who I discovered in the Cosby show at African Art.

One thing I found frustrating was a Calder mobile; the wall notes talk about the meaning behind the moving parts, but as it's displayed, the parts don't move at all.  It's paired with a Roy Lichtenstein piece that's meant to be a nod to Calder, except the Lichtenstein is a mobile that doesn't move.  The problem is that if the Calder isn't moving either, it's hard to see the difference.

My favorite item was a sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle.  It's a very large piece involving two turtles, a crayfish and a moon with a woman's face in it.  I love the bright colors, and the mirror tile reflects light onto the backdrop.  Somehow, it seems to move (perhaps it's the HVAC?) - it's far more mobile than the Calder.

Verdict: A good show, worth the time to look at everything.  Some things I liked more than others, but a fine way to spend a lunch hour.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Woman of Inexhaustible Energy

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through May 15, 2016

Dolores Herta is the subject of the current "One Life" installment, the first Latina to be featured.  She worked with Cesar Chavez in the farm workers movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  Because Chavez was the more charismatic of the two, he tended to get all the press attention; this exhibit seeks to redress that imbalance.

Huerta was the United Farm Workers lobbyist and a tough contract negotiator, as well as the mother of 11 children.  And I thought I had a busy schedule...

Raised by a single mother, she lived in a home that practiced gender equality, which helped her enormously in dealing with the male-dominated world of union organizing.  As hard-nosed a negotiator as she was, she and the farm workers movement generally, espoused civil disobedience and non-violence.

Something I noticed was a  picture of her speaking at a rally wearing a vest with the farm workers logo on it - and then the vest itself displayed next to it on the wall.  If there's not a name for that (a picture of something and then the thing itself), there needs to be.

Verdict: A worthy entry in the "One Life" series; get a more complete picture of the farm workers movement at this exhibit.

A Bit of Background for Robert Motherwell

Where: Archives of American Art

When: through March 27, 2016

True confession: I'd never heard of Robert Motherwell before I went to see the current display in the Archives room in the American Art Museum.

Turns out, he was a major mover and shaker in the Abstract Expressionist movement (that's not really winning me over), and he helped establish New York as an artistic center after World War II.  So, he's a very important part of an artistic movement I don't really like very much.

Nevertheless, the archives has put on its usual fine display.  If you go, you'll see holdings related to Motherwell, including letters, photographs, catalogs and essays.  You'll see references to many others in the world of modern art, notably John Cage and Joseph Cornell (neither of whom I much like).

Verdict: Not really my cup of tea, but if you're interested in Abstract Expressionism, I would recommend this to you.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Good-bye to the Freer and to 2015

It was with a heavy heart that I went to the Freer on the last day of 2015, as it was my good-bye to one of my favorite parts of the Smithsonian.  I always say I relax just by walking in the door, and truly, I can feel my tension melt away as I walk up the steps to the main floor.

As if the Freer and its collection of beautiful things beautifully displayed were not enough, 2015 brought a Thursday meditation workshop to the museum.  I became a regular participant and am heartily sorry to see that come to an end.

Why all the gloom and doom?  The Freer is closing for two years in order to renovate.  My understanding is that long-needed upgrades to their HVAC system and other infrastructure are on their agenda, so this is clearly necessary.  Still, it's a wrench to see it close.

I walked through the entire main floor and gazed at everything.  It's a small museum, so it didn't take long to make the circuit.   I discovered a wonderful display of Korean inlay ceramics, which I will assuredly revisit when the museum reopens.  I also went out briefly into the courtyard, which is a lovely space.  Perhaps I'll bring a book and read there during the fine weather in future.

Of course, it's not just my trips to the Freer which are coming to an end, but 2015 as well.  I'm writing this on January 1, 2016 - starting my year off with blogging!  I saw many wonderful things in 2015, both here in DC and in other cities.  I'm hoping this year will offer me more opportunities to widen my horizons.

Next fall will bring the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and if their exhibits are as good as the ones they've put up at the American History Museum, they will be excellent.  Plus, the East Building of the National Gallery is scheduled to reopen in fall as well.  I'll be glad (as I'm sure the curators will be too) to have their big exhibit space back again.  I like the West Building, but it's cramped for anything really large.  I'm very eager to see the rooftop garden as well - the views should be great.  I'm also planning to head to the Renwick, as it re-opened recently.  The show "Wonder" sounds great, and I confess, I'd like to see those neon signs that have generated such controversy.  2016 should be a banner year!

Verdict: Good-bye Freer - I shall miss you in 2016 and 2017, and look forward to seeing you again in 2018.