December 9, 2009
Every year since 1967, more than one million people gather on the National Mall over two weeks for cultural immersion and exploration. Last year, visitors learned about the power of words in African American culture, the culture of Wales and music in Latino culture. The three programs for the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival to be held June 24–28 and July 1–5, 2010 have been announced:
México Profundo focuses on the more than 62 indigenous groups of our Southern neighbor inspired by Guillermo Bonfil Batalla’s 1987 book México Profundo. The program will celebrate Mexico’s Independence Bicentenary (1810-2010) and Revolution Centenary (1910-2010) in collaboration with the National Council for Culture and Arts (Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes) of Mexico. Four thematic areas will structure the program: the plaza, the market, the workshop and the field. Participants will engage visitors in traditional activities including ceremonial and social dances, satirical processions, traditional and rock music, food, healing traditions, farming and fishing techniques and tequila production. Some participants include the Teenek of the Huasteca region of San Luis Potosí, who will reenact a tradition from their cosmology as they fly on the palo volantín (roughly translating to flying stick), and an artisan family from Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca.
The Asian Pacific American Connections program will focus on the Asian culture in the United States. There are approximately 30 Asian American and 24 Pacific Island American groups in the U.S., and Washington, D.C. has more than 350,000 peoples of Asian descent living in the metro area. The program is part of a research and public presentation project between the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and partners with the University of Maryland, local communities and other organizations. The project documents the culture of Asian Americans and Asian Pacific Americans living specifically in or around Washington, D.C. The Folklife program will include theater, music, dance performances, language, calligraphy traditions, martial arts, healing arts, ritual arts, food demonstrations, sports presentations.
The Smithsonian Inside Out program will allow visitors to step behind the velvet ropes and experience the culture behind the museum galleries. Smithsonian workers, including curators, archivists, conservators, security experts and exhibition fabricators will present research and knowledge to the public. The program will specifically address how the Smithsonian is tackling four large thematic challenges: unlocking the mysteries of the universe, understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet, valuing world cultures and understanding the American experience. Behind the scenes activities will include caring for the Smithsonian’s moon rocks and meteorites, examining pre-Columbian American communities, tracking climate change with scientists and comparing the traditional techniques of West African and Southwestern U.S. adobe builders.
December 8, 2009
The National Zoo welcomed four chameleon forest dragons on Nov. 11—the first ever born at the zoo. The babies’ parents arrived at the Zoo’s Rock Creek facility in June 2009, and the mother laid four eggs while in quarantine. Very little is known about the species, so the little ones are being carefully observed off display. Visitors can, however, still see the adults inside the Reptile Discovery Center.
The name chameleon forest dragon is a little misleading. They are neither chameleons nor dragons, but are a type of lizard called an agamid. Members of this family of lizards are commonly called dragons or dragon lizards. The chameleon forest dragon is so named for its dragon-like triangular head and spiky, leaf-shaped ridge plates on the crown of its head and back.
While they aren’t chameleons, the skin of these lizards changes color similar to a chameleon. When they’re born, the skin is a bright lime green. As the animals age, the skin either stays green or changes to a brown-tan color depending on the dominant colors occurring in the animal’s surroundings. This helps it to stay hidden in either tree leaves or the bark. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, the lizards will eventually grow up to 12 inches.
November 30, 2009
Two adult arapaima fish died recently at the National Zoo. The first fish died on Thursday, Nov. 19, and the second fish was found dead Friday, Nov. 27. Zoo staff suspect a bacterial infection, and further tests including cultures and microscopic evaluations, should provide staff with further information.
A third adult fish is in poor health and being treated with antibiotics. While staff have observed some improvement, the fish’s prognosis is not yet clear. The zoo’s fourth arapaima, an adolescent, seems to be in good health but is being treated with antibiotics as a precaution. Catfish and pacus also live in the tank and are all in good health.
The two deceased fish lived in the Zoo’s Amazonia exhibit for 16 years. Zoo staff estimate that the two fish were 17 years old. The lifespan of arapaima in captive populations is generally about 17 years.
The arapaima is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world and is native to the Amazon and the Orinoco basin in South America. The fish can grow up to eight feet in length, though the average is between six and seven. The arapaima breathes air and stays submerged for up to 20 minutes at a time. Because the fish stay close to the surface of the water, they are more vulnerable to human hunters. They are a popular food source in South America, and the species is becoming rarer but is not yet endangered.
November 20, 2009
This week, the National Air and Space Museum unveiled the first phase of its new permanent exhibit about human spaceflight, “Moving Beyond Earth.”
The gallery focuses on the shuttle and space-station era and includes items that were just recently doing their jobs in space, like the Hubble’s Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement, or COSTAR. That piece, which was a corrective optics package that worked in conjunction with the Hubble telescope’s mirror, came back to Earth this past May during the last servicing mission.
The artifacts in this space have a very different feel than the traditional, historical objects in other galleries. In fact, NASA astronaut John Grunsfeld, who was on hand for the opening celebrations, noted the absurdity of even calling them artifacts. Just a few years ago, Grunsfeld was using the HST Power Control Unit Trainer, another new artifact now on display, to practice for his missions—he went on three.
“We were very short on artifacts because all the artifacts from the shuttle era were still in use,” said Valerie Neal, curator of the new hall. Neal refers to the current gallery as a “footprint for the fully built-out space” that will be completed in the next two years.
The star at the museum these day is another Hubble instrument, the piano-sized Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, or WFPC2, which also on view in an adjacent hall.The WFPC2 was installed on the Hubble in 1993 to correct the telescopes blurred images. Averting near disaster for the program.
When Hubble first went up, it was called an American disgrace, says Edward Weiler, who was the chief scientist on the Hubble Telescope for nearly 20 years. The WFPC2, he says, “turned Hubble into a great American comeback story.” The instruments might be the objects on display in the museum, but Grunsfeld says there’s more to the story than just the artifacts. “It wasn’t the instruments that saved Hubble,” he says. “People saved Hubble.
History buffs will no doubt head for the star artifacts, but younger visitors are likely to head for the screens. The hall is chock-full of games and play stations. Visitors can sit at a control panel and make decisions on NASA missions as if they were seated in a real life Mission Control. Another interactive demonstrates decision making for all sorts of things like planning new components to the space station, budgeting health fitness, food stores and living condition staples. And still another invites visitors to discover a compatible career for them in space, no matter their interest, by answering questions such as their favorite subject in school and what their preferred super hero power would be. (Two of my top jobs were librarian and educator.)
The museum’s director Jack Dailey says this gallery has more interactives than any other place in the museum. “We have long had a desire to add more interactives to stimulate and inspire the younger generation,” he said. “The first thing a young person looks for is the screen. They find it and immediately go to it and start touching it.”
November 17, 2009
Linda Nochlin, the Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Modern Art at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts, pioneered the study of women and art with her groundbreaking 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Considered the foremost scholar of feminist art history, she has authored numerous publications, including Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays (1988) and Representing Women (1999). Nochlin recently spoke with Abby Callard.
Almost 40 years ago, you wrote about the lack of great female artists. How about now? I think things have changed. I think the idea of greatness has changed as a result of that article and other work in the field of art history. I don’t think there’s a single standard of greatness anymore. Many more women have entered into the realm of great artists. I still think it’s a very good paper, and I still think it’s illuminating to people who know nothing about art or women in art even though circumstance may have changed and it also sheds light on other areas of achievement and expertise, not just women. And other groups, racial groups, national groups that have been cashed out. And the whole point is to show that none of this is genetic, in-built, natural etc. it’s all part of a complex social and institutional organization.
Where did the idea for your article come from? I had come back from a year abroad to teach at Vassar, and some friends told me about the feminist movement. It was 1969. There’d been student revolutions. But there hadn’t been a feminist revolution. Back home there was the Red Stockings newsletter and Off Our Backs. A lot of stuff was happening, so I immediately changed my seminar at Vassar to “Women in Art” and I divided it into two parts: “Women Artists” and “The Representation of Women.” And it was one of the greatest classes I’ve ever taught. Students demanded to make not just two reports, but three or four. We made the most amazing discoveries. At graduation that year, a gallery owner said to me, “You know Linda, I’d love to show women artists, but why are there no great women artists?” That just started me ticking. I went and did research. And I just kept thinking about that, and writing, and writing, and writing. I read very specific lives of artists. One thing just lead to another, like a creative discovery. Almost like scientists must feel when they find some new way of looking at the universe. I was looking at the world differently. I’d always been a very political person. But this was different. I still think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
What is the difference between a good, respectable artist and a great artist? I guess a kind of uniqueness and impact on the field itself. I would pick the figure of Cezanne. This is an artist who not only was brilliant and interesting but changed the course of art, changed what we think of as beauty, changed what we thought about the relationship between paint and the canvas. Whatever we mean by great, he was it. Everyone would say Michelangelo. He’s not one that I particularly like, but I can recognize his talent.
Which female artists have crossed that barrier? Louise Bourgeois for one. She’s one of the most famous and sought after women in the world. Cindy Sherman. Looking back, Eva Hesse certainly made an enormous impact on the field of sculpture. In photography we could point to a lot of women artists. I could go on and on. Video and performance art has been contributed to enormously by female artists. I think there are realms of art like video and performance, which are important now, where women really are great artists.
What about painting? I hate to use that word even. Mary Cassatt. Let’s see, who else? Georgia O’Keeffe. In fact, one might say that she is one of the most famous painters in the world. Helen Frankenthaler is a major figure.
You’re credited with inventing the field of feminist art history. Where do you see the field going? I think it is becoming different. I think there’s a new generation of new feminists in the field of art history that are making it different. There are also women coming from other parts of the world. They are extending the notion of what is art. I think that’s a real interesting problem nowadays. Certain kinds of performances, certain kinds of installations, certain kinds of actions that were not included within the field of art are now being included, and women are practicing within those fields. So I think it’s both things. I think it’s both geographic, if you want to put it that way, and conceptual in terms of what is art. Expanding the borders of what art may be.
But you’re interested in more than female artists. I am. Very much so. I’m interested in 19th century art in general and particularly Gustave Courbet, whom I’ve written a book on. He was the subject of my dissertation. I’m interested in impressionism, post-impressionism. I’m interested in 20th century art, and I’m very interested in contemporary art and in criticism. I’ve recently taught classes on artists as writers. I’m interested in the relationship between word and image. But I’m very interested in the art of the 20th and 21st century and what’s going on today.
So what is going on today? I think there’s kind of a leaning toward a more open field just as I said about women artists from other geographic spots in the world and from creating within an enlarged area of art practice. I think that’s true universally; it’s not just true of women. I think criticism, there are a few trends, if you want to put it that way. Then I think there are people who are developing new theoretical bases for the discussion of art. And I think among some of the younger grad students I know there are people who are asking if there aren’t other ways of doing art history. More unconventional ways. Ways not so much tied to traditional, scholarly art historical practice but perhaps leave more room open for poetic thought, or personal ways of dealing with art or just opening up the field to other kinds of discourse, other kinds of writing practices let’s say.
Examples? Well, first of all, bringing one’s own emotions and feeling into the discussion. But I don’t mean in a sloppy way, not just pouring. But making it a part of the discourse. Another way is introducing gender into the discussion as I did. I did a long piece in a catalog once about Courbet’s studio where I suggested reversing the cast of characters. Making it into a woman’s painting where all the men became the nudes and the women became the dominant figures in the painting and so on. So I think there are imaginative ways of interpreting art that can be used in bringing enlightenment. The Clarice Smith Distinguished Lectures in American Art presents Linda Nochlin, Wednesday, November 18 at 7 PM. Free tickets are required for this event and are available beginning at 6 PM in the museum’s G Street Lobby. Limit two tickets per person; no seat-holding please. Auditorium doors open at 6:30 p.m. and close promptly at 7 p.m. Reception follows.
View live Webcast of Linda Nochlin’s lecture here.