Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hirshhorn at the Sackler

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through September 18, 2016

When I approached this photography exhibit, I was greeted by a fixture made of cathode ray tubing hanging from the ceiling - not a good sign I thought to myself.  Happily, this is not an indication of what follows.

Ahmed Mater is a photographer who is documenting Saudi Arabia's transformation from an agrarian society to an oil-based economy.  Like all societal changes, much is gained and much is lost along the way, and Mater's photographs present a view of that.

My favorite photo was one called "Nature Morte."  It's a color photograph with the look of a painting.  It's of a room containing a wonderful red chair with red pillows.  Outside the window, all is light and action and activity.  Inside, all is cool, calm serenity.  A great juxtaposition.

Towards the end of the exhibit is a set of slide viewers.  I think they were meant to show older photographs with newer ones superimposed on them.  Without being able to pick them up and look through, I couldn't really tell.  Touching was not permitted, so I tried to look through, but they were placed at such a low height that even I (not a tall person by anyone's measure) was stooping over to see.  Not a happy placement.

Verdict: Overall, not a bad show.  If you like photography, it's worth a look.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Little Bit of Everything

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through September 18, 2016

No one has given more to the National Gallery than the Mellon family.  Andrew Mellon gave the original gift to found the museum and his son and daughter-in-law, Paul and Bunny Mellon, gave an very large gift of artwork that makes up a significant amount of the permanent collection.  Without the Mellons, there would be no NGA, and we would be the poorer for its absence.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the institution's founding, the National Gallery has put on a show entitled "In Celebration of Paul Mellon," which contains many of the works he gave that are not in the permanent collection.  Many of the works on display are prints on paper, which are too fragile to be out on a regular basis, so this is a great opportunity to see them.

The wall notes at the entrance to the show include this quote from Paul Mellon, "I have never bought pictures as an investment, except as an investment in pleasure..."  So what you're seeing is what the Mellons liked, what they wanted to live with and have in their home.  Mellon described himself as an "incurable collector," and it's interesting to see what he collected.

I was reminded of the Barnes Foundation that I visited in Philadelphia last summer - when you enter a room, it's fun to try to decide how the works go together, since they are not arranged chronologically or by artist or genre.

Verdict: Worth a look - there's something for everyone in this far-ranging collection.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

NMAI stages major retrospective for Kay WalkingStick

Where: National Museum of the American Indian

When: through September 18, 2016

True confession: I'd never heard of Kay WalkingStick before I went to this show.  Now, she's one of my favorite artists.  Best known for her diptychs, she had several artistic periods throughout her career, which started in the 1960s and continues to the present.  This exhibit explores them all, starting with her early nudes and ending with her landscapes and paintings of Native places.

I was drawn to the shapes and colors she uses in her early work, especially Hudson Reflections, which I saw repeated in later pieces.  She uses the color red in several works - a red that will not be ignored or overlooked.  It's as if the painting is shouting out, "Look at me!!!  Look at me now!!!"

I also liked her diptychs, which combine abstraction on one side, with realistic landscapes on the other.  It's two views of the same thing; either two completely different paintings put together or, as in the work pictured here, two paintings that form one almost seamless whole.

The only works I really didn't care for were from her Italian period.  She lived there for several years, eventually converting to Catholicism.  Perhaps it's my difficulties with organized religion that biased me against these works, but I have a hard time understanding how someone who could create works depicting such raw female sexuality could also join a church that has not exactly been a champion of women's sexual expression.

Verdict: Overall, a great show, well worth seeing before it heads out of town for a national tour.