Tuesday, February 28, 2017

From Fact to Fiction

Where: American History Museum

When: February 26, 2017

The Dibner Library sits on the first floor of the American History Museum, and the staff puts up a display in the outermost room to show off some of their holdings.

The current display is on 19th century science fiction, which was inspired by the tremendous discoveries of that time period in a wide range of scientific fields.  Flight, machines, exploration and electricity all played their part in advancing human knowledge and in serving as the basis for exciting reading.

Of course, viewed from the 21st century, it's clear that science fiction in tern inspired a new generation of scientists, inventors and explorers - a great example of a virtuous cycle.

Verdict: Have a glance at this small display while you're at the museum.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Text as Art

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through February 20, 2017

This show is the first major exhibit in the United States on the Koran; the works on display come from Istanbul's Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts.  Because figural imagery is not allowed, the artwork in these books is geometric and abstract, with some vegetal images as well.  I was reminded of Frank Lloyd Wright's window designs when I looked at some of the pages.

One of the Korans on display is a monumental size - I didn't realize there was a size after elephant, but monumental makes that look small.  The Koran on display is one of the largest in the world, so it was great to see it.  Long-time readers will know how much I enjoy seeing the largest, or smallest or rarest of something.

I was also reminded of illuminated Biblical manuscripts, so perhaps there's some universal tendency to combine religious texts and art?

Verdict: A fine show, one I'm glad I made time to see.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Here, There and Everywhere

Where: American Art Museum

When: through February 28, 2017

In honor of the opening of the African American museum, the SAAM is promoting its collection of art by African-Americans.  You pick up a brochure at the information desk and make your way around the museum, picking out the works described.  It can be challenging, as you don't get a photo of each work, and not all of them are on display at any one time.

My personal favorite work by an African-American (in fact, my favorite thing at any Smithsonian Museum) is the tin foil sculpture pictured above.  It has a new display area, which I like very much.  Its message, "Fear Not" is one we can all relate to from time to time.

When I went treasure-hunting for the featured works, I also walked through the Hall of Presidents, which will shortly close for refurbishment.  I'll be sure to report on what the new display looks like when it re-opens.

I also took a quick look at the Trump portrait.  He's tossing an apple, which I think is both a nod to Magritte's famous work, and to Trump's success in Manhattan real estate.  In my opinion, it's also a representation of his own character - a rotten apple, indeed.

Verdict: I like the idea of pointing out works by African-Americans to visitors, but a more detailed brochure would have made finding the pieces easier.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ming vs. Rothko

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through February 20, 2017

The Sackler has gone in for juxtaposition, putting together a Mark Rothko painting and a Ming dynasty porcelain dish.  Advantage dish, hands down.

I'm no fan of Rothko; his paintings just don't seem to be of anything.  This is no different, just some red paint.  It left me cold; why is this considered so wonderful?

The Ming dynasty porcelain dish, on the other hand, is gorgeous.  The color is amazing, and the process used in the 1400s has not been completely duplicated.  You look at this piece and you feel as if you're looking back in time.

Verdict: Dish 1; Rothko 0

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Passage to a Very Different Part of India

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through February 12, 2017

This is a collection of photographs of very poor people in a remote part of India.  Galli, the photographer, focuses her work (no pun intended) on women and girls.  One of the first images in the show is one of a young woman with an incredibly intense gaze that I found captivating.

One of the series of photographs on display is of the Belika Mela, a fair for girls; you can't help but wonder what the future is for these young women.

Verdict: It's a small show, but one with some very memorable images.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Jazz Pictures

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through February 20, 2017

Herman Leonard, a protege of Yousef Karsh, took his considerable photographic talents to New York jazz clubs and made them come alive for those who could not visit them.  If you can't smell the smoke, taste the cocktails and hear the music, then that's your failure of imagination.

Perhaps the most interesting portrait is one of Lester Young; it's a still life of a hat, some music and cigarette smoke - very intriguing.

The thing that struck me was how many of these talented musicians died young; it adds an air of melancholy to the show.

Verdict: A fine way for the Portrait Gallery to celebrate the opening of the African American museum.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Little Taste of What Awaits

Where: Smithsonian Castle

When: through January 31, 2017

If, like me, you're still waiting to go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, seeing a model of the museum will either give you a tiny substitute until you're able to go, or make the waiting all the more excruciating.

For me, I was able to savor it as a preview of coming attractions, as I have a ticket to see the museum in April!  Expect a blog post on my experience, obviously.

Verdict: Great or awful, depending on your point of view.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

You Are There

Where: Museum of African Art

When: through January 31, 2017

I don't believe I'd ever been to an exhibit of "sound art" before, but I'm quite happy to hear more.  The Museum of African Art specifically commissioned this piece, which features sounds from a market in Lagos, Nigeria (over 5,000 miles away), played in a small room.  You feel surrounded by the sounds of people buying and selling, and since I experienced it (hard to say I saw it, since there's nothing to see) right after going to the Turquoise Mountain show in the International Gallery, I had no problem imagining the scene.

Verdict: Great fun, and very easy to add on to another show.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Afghan Craft Fair

Where: Ripley Center International Gallery

When: through October 29, 2017

Ordinarily, I wouldn't visit or blog about a show closing so far in the future, but when I went, the closing date was January 29, 2017.  Not sure if the website had (or has) a typo or if the stay has been extended, but, assuming you really do still have time to see this show, take advantage of that opportunity.

The International Gallery is set up as an open-air market (minus the open air, of course).  Elaborate carving greets you as you enter, and, best of all, you can touch it!  Tactile exhibits are my favorite, but they are very rare.

I love this quote from one of the artists, Sughra Hussainy, "I believe that while the body needs food to live, the soul needs art."  You'll see beautiful calligraphy and beautiful painting.  There's so much to see, that it's hard to single any one thing out, but I think I was most struck by Nasser Mansouri's latticework, which reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright's designs.

Verdict: See this show and step into another world.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Virginia Dwan, You Have a Lot to Answer For

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through January 29, 2017

I realize I'm blogging about an exhibit that's already closed, but if you missed this one, count yourself lucky.

I had never heard of Virginia Dwan before, but it turns out she encouraged a lot of people whose art I do not like.  So thanks for nothing, Virginia!  She had two galleries: one in LA that exhibited NY and European works, and one in NY that exhibited works from LA.  I like the idea of providing people access to works they wouldn't ordinarily see; I just object to what those works were.

You start with abstract expressionism, which I think is just so ugly, and you move onto to Yves Klein and his ridiculous selling of the experience of throwing gold ingots into the Seine (literally: a fool and his money are soon parted) and Dan Flavin and his flourescent lights.  And let's not forget our friends, the monochrome painters.  A great big bunch of YUCK is the best way I can describe this.

Also on view, in the Library, was some materials from the Dwan Archives.  All I can say is that if one liked this art, one would be interested in the documents, but one does not.

Verdict: This sort of thing belongs in the Hirshhorn, where one expects to see it.