Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Trip to Rococo France

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through August 20, 2017

The National Gallery's show, "America Collects," on now through August 20th, is a trip to France before the Revolution.  The title of the show refers to the fact that all of the pieces on display are from collections in the United States, as Americans love French art.

It all started with the arrival in 1815 of Joseph Bonaparte (brother of Napoleon) with a large number of paintings, presumably to console him while in exile in the U.S.   This excited an interest that was taken up years later by Gilded Age tycoons, who collected these pieces to decorate their grand homes and then donated them to public institutions, where they continue to reside and attract visitors.

I confess, Rococo art is not to my taste - all the frippery and finery and exuberance makes me long for the precision of a Durer, but when one goes to an exhibit of 18th century French art, one must be prepared for some gaudy frills.

I was interested to see "The Bath of Venus" and "The Toilette of Venus," now displayed together for the first time since the 1700s.  Long-time readers know that I'm always eager to see works that rarely travel or that haven't been exhibited in ages or that are reunited after many years apart.  Right up my street.

Much to my delight, I saw a piece with a dog that looked very like my own four-legged friend.  A black and tan Spaniel-esque canine, the one in the painting had a bit more black in his coat and a smaller snout than my Sherlock, but they could easily have been siblings.

I thought as I made my way through room after room of Gallic excess, "But we all know what happens to these people in 1789..."  And of course, art changed quite a bit after the Reign of Terror.  Gone were the bright colors and opulent settings; a gritty realism took over.  The work that stuck with me most strongly was a piece entitled "The Drunken Cobbler."  It depicted a derelict man, besieged by his wife and her barefoot children.  I use the old saw "the cobbler's children have no shoes" on a regular basis - here it was in front of me!

Verdict: I liked this show more than I thought I would.  Even if much of the style is not my favorite, it was well presented, and the wall notes were quite interesting.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Thinking of my Brother

Where: Natural History Museum

When: through August 14, 2017

There's a fine exhibit on the National Park Service, complete with gorgeous photos, on now at Natural History.  Last August marked the 100th birthday of the NPS, and the museum is doing its part to honor one of the things that makes America great.

My use of the national parks consists of the National Mall and Wolf Trap (the only national park for the performing arts!), but I am a supporter of the National Park Service Foundation and hope that someday, I'll be able to see the great parks out west.  Plus, my brother works for the NPS (in fact, he is somewhere in the photo above), so I have plenty of reasons to support them and the great work they do.

"There is nothing so American as our national parks."  - FDR, 1934

This quote is printed at the beginning of the exhibit, a fitting way to start.  No matter how bad things may be in the economy (keep in mind, Roosevelt said this in the midst of a depression) or in the world at large (you'll recall, things weren't looking good overseas either), our national parks are always a worthwhile investment of the nation's time and money.   This show gives you a feel for the variety of parks throughout the country.  Photos of Peacefield (John and Abigail Adams' home) and Mount Vernon reminded me of trips I've taken; Yosemite and Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are trips I'd like to take in future.

In other news, the Korea Gallery has closed, and a "Garden Lounge" is under construction.  I'm not sure exactly what this will be, but I'm guessing some sort of eatery?  When it opens in November, I'll be sure to check it out.

Verdict: If you are a lover of nature photography, don't miss this show.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Two Small Shows at the National Gallery

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through August 6, 2017

It hadn't occurred to me until just now that I saw two shows on urban landscapes this week.  Perhaps because they're so different, both in style and content?

This one is a very small (two little rooms, across the hall from the large exhibit spaces on the Ground Floor of the West Building) display of works spanning the 20th century.  They are part of the NGA's print collection, which is quite large, especially with the addition of the Corcoran pieces.

The piece I photographed for the post is by Louis Lozowick (whose work I feel certain I've seen before - the name is familiar) called "Allen Street."  The sun coming through the elevated tracks to make geometric shapes on the street below really caught my eye.

Verdict: Nice small show, worth a look if you're there for one of the larger shows.

The other display I saw was in the library, in the East Building and it runs through August 25.  It's called Companion Pieces and it's a collection of items that accompanied avant garde art shows.  If you're interested in the history of modern art, it might be worth a look, but otherwise you can skip it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

More Latino Art

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: through August 6, 2017

I don't know how it happened, but 2017 has rushed by in a blur.  It doesn't seem possible that it's more than halfway over, but since I've started seeing shows that close in August, I have no choice but to believe it's so.

I saw several things this week, the largest of which is this show of photographs by Latino photographers, depicting life in urban neighborhoods.  The time frame is early 1960's through the 1980's.  The series I chose for the blog photo is by Camilo Jose Vergara, and it's called "65 East 125th Street, Harlem."  It's the same storefront as it changes over the years.  It starts out as a lounge, with a rather "dive bar" look to it and winds up as a church.   I don't know if this is due to changes in the surrounding neighborhood, or just the vicissitudes of business, but it makes you think about the passing of time, which, I guess, brings us back to the whole "I can't believe it's already July" idea.

I found myself remembering the photography show I saw at American Indian recently; it's really a similar idea - documenting the people of an area that is often overlooked by mainstream society.  The portraits of children especially made me think of that other show.

I also liked the "Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, 1980" by Anthony Hernandez, which is bus stops and people waiting for buses to arrive.  Been there (well, not exactly there, but in that same situation); done that.  I can remember, as a graduate student with no car, wishing I lived at "Not in Service" since that was where all the buses seemed to be going.

Perhaps the most interesting piece was Ruben Ochoa's "What if Walls Created Spaces?" which is a lenticular print mounted on aluminum composite.  As you walk past, the highway wall pictured opens up and green space is revealed.

Verdict: Nicely laid out show; interesting photographs made by a group (Latinos) that I don't see enough of in my lunchtime travels.  I'm hoping more Latino art will go on display in future. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The American Landscape Isn't All Out West

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through July 16, 2017

When I think of great American landscapes, my mind inevitably turns to the West: Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains.  What I forget is that the Eastern part of the U.S. has great landscapes too.  Having spent a lifetime in the Mid-Atlantic, there's no excuse for my overlooking the natural beauty so near by!  Happily, this show has opened my eyes, and I hope will open those of others before it closes in another week.

This collection of 19th century photographs starts with early daguerreotypes, some of which are so sensitive to light that they are covered with little curtains.  I found it hard to see the images but didn't want to stare too long for fear of making matters worse, so gave these only a quick glance.

The next room featured stereographs - which reminded me strongly of my old "Viewmaster Viewer."  Two identical images set side-by-side create a 3-D image, if you look at them with a special viewer.  Great fun, largely due to the trip down memory lane.

There were also several examples of photographs and paintings of the same view, exhibited together - a great idea I thought, showing how artists in different media see the same thing.

The Civil War got a bit of space as well, not surprising, since it was the first war to be photographed.  Just as Vietnam brought the war to America's living rooms by way of television, people were far more aware of what was happening in this conflict due to photography.

I noticed among the offerings, several from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  It made my wonder how often the two institutions share things for special exhibits - are they more colleagues than competitors?

Verdict: A fine show, one worth seeing.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Like Father, Like Daughters

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Ground Floor

When: through July 16, 2017

Ian Woodner was an art collector, especially fond of drawings.  He began collecting in the 1940s, and did not limit himself to any particular historical period.  His daughters, Dian and Andrea, joined in his passion, and gave a substantial portion of his collection to the National Gallery in 1990, after Ian's death.  In addition, they have promised more pieces to the NGA, some of which are on display in this show.

It covers a wide span of time, from the 1300s through to the present.  I was very happy to see some Durers among the offerings; I love the precision of his works.  A piece entitled "Initial Q with a Procession of Children" by Zanobi Strossi caught my eye - painted in 1430, but vividly colorful.

Leonardo da Vinci was among those present, with "Grotesque Head of an Old Woman," pretty far away from the Mona Lisa - more like something out of Dr. Seuss. Hendrick Avercamp's "Winter Games on the Frozen River Ijsse" I saw in the small exhibit of art from the "little ice age" period.  I very much like seeing things again - makes me feel full of artistic knowledge to recognize something.

Louis-Leopold Boilly's "The Public in the Salon of the Louvre, Viewing the Painting of the 'Sacre'" was a piece I liked, as it depicts people in a museum, a subject of which I never tire.  In the final room, we had modern pieces, including two I recognized by Louise Bourgeois.

Verdict: Although I'm not a big fan of drawings as an art form, I do recommend this show.  Nicely arranged (chronological order - my favorite kind) and a fine tribute to one family's generosity.