Saturday, July 30, 2016

Art Show Catalogs

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through September 16, 2016

There's a summer exhibit at the National Gallery's library, and it's on art show catalogs.

They span the centuries, from the late 1600s through the mid-twentieth century.  As different French artistic societies organized exhibitions, these catalogs provided a record of what was shown, often including pictures of the works.  Thus, they are important sources for art history and works of art unto themselves.

The display takes up two cases; all the catalogs on display are from the Gallery's collection.

Verdict: If you're interested in art history, this is worth a look.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Report from Far Afield

Where: Field Museum of Natural History

When: July 2016

Hello again faithful readers and apologies for my absence.  I was in the lovely city of Chicago this past weekend, at a law librarians' conference.  Yes, that's just as exciting as it sounds.

Amidst the wining, dining, meeting, and greeting, I found some time to go to a museum.  I realize there are people who go to new cities and don't go to a museum as their first activity, but I think they need to get their priorities in order.

I arrived on Friday afternoon, and within a couple of hours, was on my way to the Field Museum of Natural History.  I'd seen the Art Institute on a previous trip, which I blogged about here: The Art Institute of Chicago

My brother used to work at the Field Museum, and my grandparents had been very impressed with it when they honeymooned in Chicago in 1933, so I decided to honor my family connections and see it for myself.  Spoiler alert: it was well worth the trip.  From SUE, the world's largest and most complete T. Rex. who dominates the main entryway to Lucy, one of our human ancestors to the gem collection, to a display on lichen, to the mummies in the Egyptian room - it was all wonderful.  I could easily have spent an entire day there and still not seen everything.

The ultimate highlight was the special exhibition of The Terra Cotta Warriors.  I missed them when they were at the National Geographic Museum in DC, so this was a great second chance for me.  You don't get those often in life, so I decided to make the most of it.  The display was excellent - explaining the purpose of the warriors and their history, so that when you made your way into the room where several of them were on display, you understood what you were seeing.  The thought of thousands upon thousands of these pieces being buried for centuries and only discovered by accident just takes your breath away.  The enormity of it is awe-inspiring.

Verdict: If you are in Chicago, I highly recommend a visit to the Field Museum.  Allow a full day to see everything.  If you have limited time, download the app to get a highlights tour.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Book is a Work of Art That You Can Hold and Touch

Where: African Art Museum

When: through September 11, 2016

It was so hot in DC yesterday when I went over to the African Art Museum to see this show that I felt like I'd walked all the way to Africa.  This is our first big heat wave of the summer, and I maintain the first one is always the worst.  One's body is not yet adjusted to the humidity, and one really feels it.  I'm looking forward to the fall...

The easiest way to get to this exhibit is to enter through the Ripley; it's just off the main concourse.  The cool temperatures so far below the ground were a delight, and the ordinarily quiet offices were buzzing with summer camp activity.  As much as the crowds of screaming boys who seem to live full-time at the Air and Space Museum get on my nerves, I do realize that children who have happy memories of the Smithsonian are likely to grow up to be adults who will support its funding (just like me!), so I sincerely hope the campers are enjoying themselves to the fullest.

The exhibit is an interesting one, showcasing a wide variety of different illustrated books.  The curators took a very broad view of what is an "artist's book," so these are books with lovely illustrations, or books where the illustrations are primary, with explanatory text, or books that are works of art in and of themselves.  The thing they all have in common is that they are either by African artists or about Africa.

In addition to the books, there is also a video running, of interviews with several of the artists.  If you have some extra time, this is worth watching.  I noticed that the wall notes seemed targeted to younger visitors, as I've observed in other of the museum's shows.  This is probably a good thing, in that children might not be inclined to go to an art museum (especially if Air and Space or Natural History beckon), so making an effort to make the art accessible to them is laudable.  It might not be what I would choose for myself, but I understand that it's not all about me.

Verdict: A nice exhibit, one that you could see with kids.

A Bit of Old Hollywood at the Portrait Gallery

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through September 11, 2016

The Portrait Gallery is offering viewers a walk down memory lane with this exhibit of TIME magazine covers featuring Hollywood stars.

The museum has a collection of the art featured on over 2,000 covers of the periodical, which I'm assuming must be the largest such collection in existence.  It makes for a rich source of exhibits, I'm sure; we've seen others before and will doubtless see more in future.

I do wonder, however, if this gives the publisher some free publicity - are these shows advertisements for TIME?  I realize that the art now belongs to the museum, so it's not as if they're showing works that are on loan from a private collection, which is frowned upon in museum circles.  Still, though, it did cross my mind...

As for the show itself, it's fine.  Nothing ground-breaking, famous Hollywood types that you've seen many times before.  The wall notes suggest that the pictures might stir memories of movies from yesteryear, so clearly, they're not targeting this to the younger set.

Verdict: If you're a fan of Hollywood celebrities, have a look.  Otherwise, not worth a special trip.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A So-So Show

Where: Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden

When: through September 5, 2016

I'm writing this on July 2 - how has half of 2016 gone by already?  I've seen some very fine things this year - WONDER stands out especially.  I wish I could tell you that this major exhibit of Robert Irwin works is another highlight of the year, but I am unable to do so.

It's certainly not the worst thing I've seen at the Hirshhorn, not by a long shot.  What it is, is forgettable.  I saw this just a few days ago, and I had to consult my notes to recall what I saw.  Usually, I look to my notes to remind me of the title of a particular piece or how to spell an artist's name, not to conjure up any recollection of the show at all.

There are a couple of works like the one pictured - they're really more shadow than anything else.  Not awful, not great.  Then there are some paintings with slashes of color across them; they're known as "pick up sticks" works.  Again, okay, I guess.  Eventually, there are fewer and fewer lines, until we're left with just a painted canvas in a solid color.  Sigh - I call this painting the living room, not art.

Then, we move on to "dot paintings."  These are exactly what you think - tiny dots.  You have to get very close to see them, and then all you're seeing is dots.  It's like some sort of anti-Seurat.  You have the dots, but no overall picture.

The show ends with something that is memorable, but very difficult to describe.  It's a site specific installation that I think is called something like "Squaring the Circle."  The idea is that it's a phony wall, made of scrim, that "squares" the circle that is the Hirshhorn building.  I wasn't sure what I was looking at, and the guards were so concerned that you not touch anything, that I felt sort of uncomfortable walking around it.  I noticed that at the ceiling, the wall seems to appear and fade as you approach and walk by.  Not a good description, I know.

Verdict: If you're at the Hirshhorn for something else, that final room is worth seeing.  Otherwise, you can skip this.