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.

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