Tag Archives: Hirshhorn Museum

Inspiration in Washington, DC: A Captivating Art Tour

A five-day visit to our nation’s capital, with the unusual circumstance of time on my hands, means visiting exhibits and museums at a leisurely pace. What a treat to read each description, sit in front of work and dwell to my heart’s content, and circle back around to displays I want to reconsider. My first stop is the National Portrait Gallery. After a joyful reunion with my Rollins College Writing Center co-worker and friend, we periodically pause feverish talk of politics and focus our attention on the galleries.

Some highlights include one of my favorites by Cecilia Beaux. Look at that hand, so unfussy, so gestural, so perfect. And the controversial Richard Prince with his snarky sense of humor. I am intrigued by Mark Bradford’s “Amendment #8” because of my own use of text in layers of paint. The artist renders the words illegible and the only way we recognize the meaning is through the title of the work. The loss of meaning in language is something I have had on my mind lately, in listening to language used by politicians.

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“John” by Vincent Valdez

“American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis)” by Emily Prince

Later, I return to see The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now. One should not be rushed through this exhibit. The photographs are intimate and breathtaking. The tiny hand drawn portraits of fallen soldiers are too numerous to take in carefully, and it feels shameful not to look at each and every face, despite or because of the extreme volume of portraits. Vincent Valdez creates a haunting homage to his friend, who survived war but not his return home, in a multimedia display including photographs, film and painting.

NOTE: in reviewing this blog post, something is nagging at me about my woefully inadequate description of The Face of Battle exhibit. It deserves more than I provide in this brief summary of art museums visits. To read an insightful article about the artists and people they portray, please click HERE.

Next is a trip to the Hirshhorn Museum of Contemporary Art. The elevated annular building is a sight to behold. After circling around and underneath, admiring the surrounding sculpture gardens and the refreshing fountain in the center, I make my way inside to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit. Initially, I think I can waltz through, briskly taking in the large scale lego mats that present images of faces from around the world. But something makes me stop and read about each and every person. They are each considered political dissidents and live in places without freedom of speech. Many have disappeared, many are in jail indefinitely, many are dead or presumed dead, and few are free. In addition to wanting to learn about each person’s life and heroic actions, one might wonder, why legos? A conflict, or almost embarrassing tension, exists when learning about tragedy by viewing portraits made from a commonly known toy. It seems playful but is not. I try to imagine the installation as a large mat of photos instead of legos and how another medium would impact viewer perception. It is as if the legos keep the images from being “just another” news story and prompt viewers to think about the personal lives of the portrayed people. It is surprising how the common world wide use of legos somehow makes us feel more connected to each individual than, perhaps, photography would. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To watch a short video of the artist speaking about the ideas presented in the installation, the methods, and the materials used, please click HERE.

Moving right along, after a good night’s sleep, is the recently renovated National Gallery of Art East Building which holds a world renowned 500 piece collection of modern and contemporary art. For first time visitors, a tip: Be sure to pick up a map and guide at the Ground Level Information desk. The design of the building can lead to disorientation and it is easy to accidentally miss certain areas such as the multiple towers. It is also easy to feel so enamored with the building, you might forget which levels, towers and corridors you have already visited, and which you have missed.

I am startled by the number of pieces in the collection that were part of my art history studies at UA Little Rock. Below is a slideshow of pieces that we discussed during my graduate program and that continue to influence my ideas about art. It is a joy to see the work in person, especially in order to closely inspect the brushwork and color used by George Condo, Wayne Thiebaud, and Cecily Brown. Seeing, up close, the line work and materials used by William Kentridge and by Sigmar Polke is so much clearer than the prints I’ve studied.

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Finally, perhaps my favorite of all: the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This is my first visit and I wonder why I haven’t prioritized it before. The collection is much larger than I realized and, again, there is no rushing through….particularly in viewing the special exhibit, “Revival.”

My former professor and friend recently expressed ambivalent feelings about the NMWA. When I asked her to explain, she said she does not want to be known as a “female artist” and would prefer to be known as an “artist.” Her questioning the benefit of this museum made me consider whether celebrating women in a separate space does perpetuate the label, “female artist.” However, like many groups of people who band together in order to create a more powerful voice, one that often goes ignored individually, I believe the NMWA exists because it is needed. As stated in the museum’s brochure and along the entry foyer wall: “Gender bias is less overt today, but contemporary women artists still face obstacles and disparities. Art by women is persistently underrepresented in museum collections and exhibitions worldwide.” I recall work at the Tate Modern that addresses this exact issue and am grateful to the museum for providing additional recognition for women in the arts.

Another unexpected thought occurs to me while visiting the museum…collectively, how is art made by women different than art made by men? Or is it? I am intrigued by this observation and notice repeated themes, some overt, some quite subtle. Much of the art is directly about being female. Many pieces are about the female body and multiple catagories within the subject of the body (how we are perceived, how we are objectified, how we cover ourselves, how we judge each other by appearance, how we are strong, how we compare to elements in nature, how we decorate ourselves. etc.).

I’ll sign off with a few favorites below. Often, I gravitate toward paintings and drawings but this time it is the sculpture that stops me in my tracks and makes me stay awhile. As always, thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

 

Washington DC Part 1: Escape to the Hirshhorn

DSC_0779The spring break crowds in addition to throngs of school groups in our nation’s capitol were thick and loud, though there were many places to find solace while enjoying incredible sights. For example, the various memorials were heavily visited but managed to feel peaceful and provocative. There were also some museums that provided a reprieve. Though certainly well-attenHirsshorn buildingded, both the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Portrait Gallery allowed visitors time and space to really look at and think about the exhibits. And the exhibits themselves showcased engaging, informative superstars in the art world with the capacity to enlighten the minds and thoughts of those who visit.

For today’s post, I’ll talk about the HirsshornHirshhorn. My interest was peaked before our trip to Washington DC, when I read an article (see link below) about the new Director, Stéphane Aquin, a Canadian who is expected to provide the museum with a shot in the arm on luring visitors to a more dynamic and competitive institution. Perhaps the museum could become more edgy or controversial, but it is hard for me to imagine how it could become more alluring. The striking shape of the Hirshhorn Museum is reminiscent of a cylindrical pot with hefty feet to support the thick walls. Next to the ornate Smithsonian DSC_0854Castle, the modern building begs curiosity.

The exhibit, “At the Hub of Things: New Views of the Collection,” on the top level of the cylinder displays a jaw dropping roster of international power house artists. With each curvilinear room, a group of renowned pieces appears and I DSC_0853pulled at the sleeves and whispered to my daughters, “Look, girls! A Francis Bacon! (see image below) What do you think of those oddly abbreviated body parts?” (to which they answered, “that’s kind of groooossss.”). DSC_0850And, “Look, a Robert Rauschenberg like the one you’ve studied at Crystal Bridges Museum! Remember the random use of text?” (“yeah, yeah, mom, we remember”). “Oh my goodness, look at this Christopher Wool. What doDSC_0845 you think of that languageDSC_0842 and pattern he creates and then obscures with large black marks so we have to dig to see what is there?” (silence).  “Look at this Rothko! Remember the exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center last year?” (“not really”). “OK, girls, take a careful look at the Joseph Cornell box. You will probably make one in art class someday and now you’ve seen one in person!” (“Ok, thanks, mom”). “OK, Phoebe, I know this Lucien Freud is a bit startling with the naked man splayed out like that, but what do you think of the rags built up in the corner? (“Mom, this one is making me so uncomfortable.”). And so it went as we followed the curve past Jasper Johns, Joan Mitchell, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Philip Guston, and so many other great artists from the second half of the 20th century. Though my girl’s lackluster enthusiasm was slightly disappointing, they were enormously patient as I studied and considered each piece, in awe of this collection belonging to the Hirshhorn.

In a shift from art objects and materials to the use of video, the exhibit, “Days of Endless Time,” magnifies the passage of time in a way that forces viewers to slow down with theDSC_0855 presented images and perceive information in a way that is rare in our fast-paced, image laden world of digital media.

Truth be told, I was afraid of feeling anxious or impatient in the slow environment, as I have a bad habit of always being rushed or trying to maximize my every moment. But the images are so contemplative that viewers, including my girls, tend to stand and stare longer than they may intend or realize. We entered a meditative mood amongst these video productions and were entranced in the simple seeming though often complex scenes. Many were like meaningful paintings, but instead of stagnant, these images slowly change and move, offering vastly more possibilities and information than a still image can typically provide. DOET_Robert_Wilson_Lady_Gaga

For example, in the piece , Lady Gaga: Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière d’après Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres, 2013 by Robert Wilson, there are multiple references to time and the references work together in a palpable synergy. For starters, the title references a historical artist, Ingres, which immediately cues the past. Yet, as historic as the artist, background and clothes appear, there is something strikingly modern about the woman. These conflicting  impressions compress the passage of time. The reference to Ingres makes us think of a painting but that thought is interrupted by the medium, video, which indicates slightly perceptible movement of the figure – clearly not a painting. If patient, the viewer will see her blink, breathe, or move her hand. The composition allows viewers to think she is imitating an Ingres model which alludes to complex ideas about art copying life and life copying art and art copying art.

My brain gets a bit scrambled as I then start to think about art being a mirror and reflecting reality….in this case the video art seems to scream “real” but it reflects art from the past…and what was that art originally reflecting? She becomes both the Ingres model from the past and not the Ingres model from the past. Again, conflicting information distorts our sense of time. Furthermore, the model is a well known object of art in contemporary pop culture – Lady Gaga transforms herself into various confounding visual objects that distinguish her from stereotypical female vocalists and force viewers to consider her as an idea rather than a person. That realization leads me to appreciate the artist’s model choice. This is not a portrait of a woman, it is a portrait of an idea.

And of course, who can avoid the confrontational messages of Barbara Kruger? I’d seen her work in books and was delightfully surprised to find her text based installation, Belief + Doubt, in the lower level of the museum. DSC_0857

There’s much more on display at the fabulous Hirshhorn – I hope to have provided enough description to encourage you to visit if given the opportunity. Next up…a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. Thank you for reading! Laura

Click here to read about the new Director of the Hirshhorn.

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The Dangerous Logic of Wooing, 2002 by Ernesto Neto