Tag Archives: Washington DC

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

 

 

 

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A visit to our nation’s capitol leads to appreciation of “30 Amercians” at the Arkansas Arts Center

DSC_0930Our recent trip to Washington DC included many compelling sights, exhibits and tours. Experiencing memorials such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, hearing speakers such as Holocaust survivor Gideon Frieder, and seeing exhibits such as “The Struggle for Justice” at the National Portrait FriederGallery each provided potent priming to return home and deeply appreciate an exhibit at our very own Arkansas Arts Center.

Though each of the included artists is African American, the exhibit “30 Americans” leaves race out of the title. This alone gives us much to consider. Why are certain races consider to be “different”? Different from what? Why do we label? How do those labels help or hurt us? It is as if this exhibit title alone teaches us to stop labeling, that it is not necessary, that it does not provide a benefit to anyone, and that we can and should see us all as human and drop the need to separate based on color. IMG_5198

Having said that, this exhibit certainly is about the distinction of skin color, about what life is like for people with dark skin, and how our culture – from advertising to language to sports to music – continues to imbed in our collective thoughts rigid definitions for what is means to be “white” and “black.”

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Artist Virmarie Depoyster, whose own work uses the element of color as a powerful design tool, discusses the use of color in “30 Amercians.”

The exhibition is on display through June 21st and many family activities, artist lectures and events are planned to help facilitate interest and engagement with visitors. For example, a series of films is scheduled to coincide and connect with the exhibit. Select Fridays at noon, premier artists are scheduled to lecture and guide visitors through the galleries. On May 7th, the “30 Americans” collectors, Donald and Mera Rubell, will visit Little Rock for a lecture that is open to the public. I had the good fortune of attending the opening reception which included a lecture by contemporary artist, Hank Willis Thomas. His provocative work is exhibited all over the world, and his ideas have the ability to deeply alter the way we view ourselves and our commercial culture.DSC_0061 Thomas stated that he works like a Trojan horse, making slight changes to accepted advertisements to enable viewers to see the harmful and sinister consequences of accepting commercial imagery as truth about people.

During the presentation, Thomas instantly engaged the audience when he asked us to stand up and hug the nearest stranger. His amiable demeanor allowed listeners to connect and accept his thoughtful perspective – which must have been a new way of thinking for many. While the commercial portrayal of race is a large focus of his work, Thomas uses advertisements to show viewers the skewed definitions we absorb about many groups of people. thHis work allows viewers to reevaluate the imagery that surrounds us and sense our error in accepting images as truths when in fact, commercially produced images about people are created by a few, whose motives are financial. mastercard

While their points are ultimately varied, Thomas’s observations about abundant and erroneous imagery in modern life reminds me of a statement made by Belgian artist, Michaël Borremans, who explained during a lecture at the Dallas Museum of Art (if interested, scroll down to see earlier blog posts about the Borremans lecture and exhibit) that we should all take responsibility for the images we allow in our minds and we should accept that the images are created without our best interests at heart. The fact is, these images impact what we think, how we feel, and what we believe, which gives the creators great and dangerous power.

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“The Long Jump by Carl Lewis” by Henry Taylor, 2010

The opening night presentation by Thomas provided an excellent introduction to the entire exhibit, providing the audience with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the purpose of the displayed work. The work allows us to see from the perspective of the artists, which opens our eyes to views otherwise unknown for some. As Thomas stated, our perspective should always be in question, and always shifting. The exhibit “30 Americans” is a powerful way to continue a shift in our perspective and instigate questions about how our beliefs are formed.

Please visit http://arkarts.com/ to learn about the exhibit and coinciding events. Thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

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

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“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

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“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

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