Tag Archives: National Portrait Gallery

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

 

 

 

Opening Minds through Travel: Noticing the Art of a Place – Part 2

Continuation of previous post:

After two days in magnificent north Wales, we headed to Oxford for one day before visiting friends in London. In London, art rose to the top of the priority list, as the city is overflowing with superb, and free to the public, museums.

IMG_8689I hardly know where to begin with impressions of the newly reopened Tate Modern. I was initially confused and off balance (literally, the floors in one of the buildings are awkwardly sloped causing a strange senstation of movement or falling). But once I figured out the floor plan and made it to the galleries, I couldn’t supress my astonishment. The Guerilla Girls, thank goodness, are promintently dispalyed and lord knows they need to be heard. IMG_8685IMG_8684

"Carnival" by Max Beckmann

“Carnival” by Max Beckmann

There hangs “Carnival” one of my all time favorite Max Beckmann paintings. An extensive, insightful and wonderously dark Louise Bourgeios exhibit was quite a draw for the crowds. It made me so proud that Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, dispays one of her mammoth spiders. There is relatively lots of work on display by women artists such as the energetic painting by Lee Krasner (see below). There are several huge paintings by Luc Tuymans (who until now I’ve only seen in books). And check out this Peter Doig painting that makes me finally understand what the big fuss is about.

IMG_8697

“Ski Jacket” by Peter Doig

IMG_8706

“Gothic Landscape” by Lee Krasner

The Tate Modern is full of provocative, stunning art. It might be best to visit in the morning, go next door to The Globe for a Shakespeare play, eat a meal, and return to The Tate for a couple more hours of wandering. At least, that’s my plan for next time.

I often refer to viewing certain art works as akin to meeting a beloved, handsome super star. It leaves me giddy and breathless. Visiting The National Portrait Gallery during the recently hung BP Portrait Award was no exception. My daughters sat on a bench in the center of the largest gallery and watched (ok, I think they made fun of me) as I jumped from one painting to the next. This is the work I most admire. These are the artists I idolize. This annual exhibit showcases the content, the concepts, the materials and the techniques I strive to apply and master in my studio. Someday, oh someday, it would be a dream come true to have a piece accepted in the venerable competition; not for the accolades, but for the sheer satisfaction of developing a painting ability of such high quality. The exhibit contains numerous familial realtionships: several artists painted their sons. For the most part, the artists painted people they know well and it could be said that a theme of deep, intimate relationships domintes the exhibit. It was hard to choose which paintings to post – here are four of my favorite:

IMG_8732

“Jean” by Jean-Paul Tibbles

IMG_8720

“Self Portrait in Pembroke Studios” by Eileen Hogan

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_8726

“Tad” by John Borowicz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Dad Sculpting Me" by Jamie Coreth

“Dad Sculpting Me” by Jamie Coreth

 

 

 

 

Just look at Tibbles ability to capture his son between boyhood and manhood. The soft edges and slight movement in the background over the young man’s left ear indicate to me the boy’s continued growth. He is not quite finished developing and figuring out who he is in his world. And look at Hogan’s self portrait in her studio. She so beautifully blends the figure with the space. We know that she is part of the space and the space is part of her being. Borowicz painted his son, Tad, whose bare chest, forward little shoulders, and out-turned ears draw viewers close. The innnocence, posture and skin evoke parental awe whether or not the viewer is a parent. One of my very favorites is by Jamie Coreth, whose subject is his father sculpting a bust of Jamie. This circular arrangment allows veiwers to delight in the relationship between a father and son, between a sculptor and painter, between art mimicking life and life mimicking art. The pointing devices throughout the composition, the direction of the eyes, the father’s hands upon the head of his son….all details that make this painting one to enjoy for hours, or a lifetime.

During our final two days in London, we were quite exhausted and visited two museums that require more engery than we could muster. That DSC_0924being said, I was utterly blown away by the thrill of seeing the Rosetta Stone at The British Museum. Written language is something I explore in my own DSC_0923work; therefore, I find any reference to the early written word to be exciting. The museum’s Mesopotamia displays, which include examples of early language, are hard to swallow in one visit. If given the opportunity to return to London, I will certainly visit The British Museum again (first thing in the morning, after a good night’s sleep!).

I would also like to return to The Victoria & Albert Museum. It was worth the effort to pop in after a morning at The Natural History Museum, although seeing the exhibit signs made me realize what we were missing. The architecture and back courtyard are worth a visit for those short on time, and the younger kids loved the wading pool which was a nice break in the afternoon.

IMG_8792

Clearly, another trip to London is in order. There were many places, such as the Hunterian Museum, that we did not get to visit, and many places that require more time and attention. We did the best we could though before hopping on a northbound train…next up York and Manchester. Thanks for reading! LauraIMG_8692

Washington DC Part 2: Escape to the National Portrait Gallery

DSC_0961 DSC_0962With so many historic sights and outstanding museums, it can be difficult to prioritize what to see in Washington, DC. Busy tourist times, such as spring break, make it is a good idea to balance each day with places you know will be mob scenes with places offering escape. The National Portrait Gallery draws crowds but manages to disperse visitors so you feel almost alone amongst the many treasures this DSC_0953museum holds. So you can fight the crowds in the International Spy Museum, or the Ford Theatre, and then dart across the street into the Portrait Gallery, take a deep breath and relax. But don’t relax for too long…there is almost too much to see here and the exhibits can cause delight, new awareness, and even brain fatigue due to artistic and curatorial excellence. Because of the sheer size and number of outstanding exhibits, I will share some details and responses to just three of the current shows on display.

On the ground level, we visited the startling display, “Portraiture Now: Staging the Self.” As an artist currently in the middle of a self-portrait commission, I was curious and excited to see this exhibit and discover some methods, materials, and ideas contemporary artists are using to present images of the self. The six artists displayed are each of Latino background and four of the six use photography as their central medium.

"El Nino" by Rachelle Mozman

“El Niño” by Rachelle Mozman

We find ourselves in the era of the “selfie,” which gives me a certain discomfort about self portraits. In fact, as I speak about my current pieces, I find myself using the third person. For example, I’ll ask a colleague “Is her nose too long? How does she relate to the space?” I can’t bring myself to acknowledge that the image is me, wanting to avoid the elevation and hyper promotion of the self that our selfie culture propagates. However, the self portraits exhibited here are a far cry from selfies, which makes me ask, what makes these pieces so provocative as well as humble? How can art be aggressive, assertive, bold and patient, clever, discreet? The answer, I suspect, lies in the brilliant way the artists present larger, communal ideas in the work, making the art about so much more than themselves and allowing viewers to become a part of the idea as we bring our own experiences to interpreting the pieces.

"Duplicity as Identity: 50%" by Maria Martinez Canas

“Duplicity as Identity: 50%” by María Martínez Cañas

Another element of success comes with a skill honed by many  successful contemporary artists: the ability to make a complex method or idea appear straightforward and simple. This attribute, often unappreciated, may explain why some people see art and say, “oh, I could do that!” No, no you probably couldn’t. It looks simple, but it is not. There is a misunderstood brilliance in this artistic  approach. For example, in the series, “Duplicity as Identity,” photographer María Martínez-Cañas presents photos that slowly merge her facial image with her father’s and communicate ideas about identity, passage of time, individuality, the undeniable role of genetics in our lives, and gender. The photos are straightforward, seemingly simple images but the ideas are complex and rich for various levels of interpretation.IMG_5175

Before heading upstairs, we warmed up in the beautiful central terrarium of the building (the tropical atmosphere of this enclosed courtyard provided a welcome warmth during a DSC_0955frigid week of weather). On the second floor, I expected to find a room of portraits by Elaine de Kooning. To my surprise, there are rooms and rooms of portraits. I can’t decide if my glee was caused by her use of color and energetic brushstroke, or the discovery of so many public figures painted by Willem’s slightly less famous but no less talented spouse, Elaine.  Her style reminds me at times of Alice Neel (see below left). Both artists are able to capture the spirit and character of the sitter with great economy of brushstroke. And they both succeed in a skill I’ve struggled to acquire: careful and occasional placement of detail…just enough to provide essential information about the person. Alice

DSC_0957

“Marjorie Luyckx” by Elaine de Kooning

One of my all time favorite  Elaine de Kooning portraits (Harold Rosenberg, below left) appeared just before I exited the exhibit. Look at the feverish brushwork around the space and body juxtaposing the relaxed position of the figure. The languid position of Rosenberg’s body parts and his debonaire facial expression contrast the vigorous and energetic brushstrokes. It is like someone screaming the word “whisper.” Elaine’s portraits reveal the influence she and her husband had on each other. However, instead of abstracting beyond recognition to reach a deeper truth, she is able to parse out and emphasize a few recognizable details to present a likeness of her models as well as reveal an inner truth of each person’s character.

“Woman, I” by Willem de Kooning

ElainedeKooning-Harold-Rosenberg-1956

“Harold Rosenberg” by Elaine de Kooning      

by Betsy Graves Reyneau

“George Washington Carver” by Betsy Graves Reyneau

 

After the whirl of color and brushwork, I found myself in the exhibit titled, “The Struggle for Justice,” which was engaging on multiple levels and a lesson on the power of art to communicate vital actions and cultural messages. Activists from the 19th century to today, who have advocated in one way or another for social justice, are presented by various artists. The artists do not just present a physically accurate portrait in honor of the figures. Each artist creatively puts to use particular materials, design and composition to reveal information about the figure’s atmosphere, work, character and ideas. For example, in the portrait of George Washington Carver, painted in 1942, the artist emphasized his curious expression and methodical hands as he closely examines a plant. His work on behalf of sharecroppers and migrant farmers, his agricultural discoveries, and his interest in nature are evident due to the handling of paint, position of the body, facial expression, subject matter and painting composition.

The National Portrait Gallery has been exceedingly thoughtful about representing a wide range of advocacy work in “The Struggle for Justice.” There are portraits of people fighting for women’s rights, birth control rights, race related rights, education rights, voting rights, labor rights, and more. Experiencing the exhibit provides an intimate way of understanding the evolving laws and social needs of a still young nation. Perhaps my favorite piece was of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

"Eunice Kennedy Shriver" by David Lenz

“Eunice Kennedy Shriver” by David Lenz

Created by David Lenz, the first place finalist of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2006, the portrait beautifully demonstrates Shriver’s passionate advocacy for children with intellectual disabilities. She gazes fondly at a boy who looks at us boldly and knows he is seen in return. The rest of the group, representing children of several races, genders and ages, stands close together as one strong unit with the exception of a girl who has stepped forward into the light – her body has an angelic glow and her arm is raised in a hopeful position. The basking sunlight is powerful and hopeful and there are dark clouds behind them. The artist designed a composition that tells so much more than a traditional formal portrait.

Reading is only one way to learn about history and our leaders. Artwork is another way to learn; it is a visual vehicle that delivers thought-provoking information to viewers. When planning our trip to Washington DC, I failed to anticipate the degree to which the National Portrait Gallery communicates as it presents the work of some of the world’s best artists and some of the world’s most outstanding, engaging and informative portraits.

As usual, thank you for taking the time to visit my blog/portfolio site. Up next: the Arkansas Arts Center brings it. What, you ask? 30 Americans. It is a must see show with a must discuss agenda. I’m not sure I’m up for the task, but I’ll try my best.

Lauradownload-4