January 13, 2009
The Hirshhorn’s new figurative art exhibit is called strange bodies—so don’t say you weren’t prepared. The collection features artistic representations of the human body from the 20th century and later. The gathered pieces are like a chart of human evolution, as seen by modern and contemporary artists.
Some of the Hirshhorn’s most famous pieces make a reappearance, like Ron Mueck’s “Big Man,” a resin and fiberglass sculpture of an enormous man, seemingly hiding in a corner. (I’m no art critic, but I was memerized by this piece: the big man seems almost angry at how much space he takes up.)
Further on down, curators chose Alberto Giacometti’s “The Nose,” an almost militaristic interpretation of that organ. (The sculpted nose resembles a sword in its length and sharpness). Robert Gober’s “Untitled” is a leg without a body.
Of the lesser-known works, George Grosz’ “The Painter of the Hole I,” has a Dr. Seuss feel to it. But the loopy and colorful technique would be a challenge for kid lit. The exhibition is a new interpretation on a body of art.
Check out “Strange Bodies” at the Hirshhorn Museum until early 2010.
December 30, 2008
The long-awaited finale to our ARG saga is online! For those who don’t know, ARG’s are “alternate reality games”—a hybrid of mystery stories and online gaming—popular with new media marketers and online communities.
A few months ago the Smithsonian American Art Museum became the nation’s first major museum to sponsor an ARG (always on the edge of the envelope, the Smithsonian). Curators scattered a trail of clues for players to piece together. In addition to their online clue-gathering, gamers gleaned hints through top-secret tours of cemeteries and underground laboratories.
I got to play along. Read the resulting story, which has more information about ARGs and about how I helped save the Smithsonian from a ghostly invasion. See pictures of skeletons, chapels and other clues, here. Or go here to test your wits by trying to solve the mystery yourself.
Georgina Goodlander, curator and clue-master, guest blogged about the ARG over at Museum 2.0. She said it was a success and sponsored “engagement” with the Museum. How else can a Museum become web-savvy?
(Photo courtesy of Georgina Goodlander)
December 19, 2008
Syncopated rhythms and melodic drums characterize Indonesdian “gamelan” music, the focus of today’s installment in our “Around the Mall” performance videos. Gamelan differs from island to island, and the ensemble that played at the Sackler last week does Balinese gamelan. Check out the video to learn how the gongs and drums are played, and to see a clip from the performance.
In an earlier performance video, “Ganesh in the Garden,” we talked to a Rajasthani dance group about retelling the stories of Hindu Gods.
December 18, 2008
Back in 1984, curator Ann Yonemura purchased the first-ever artifact for the Sackler Gallery of Art. It was an antique Japanese palanquin. Palanquins were used as transportation during the Tokugawa period of Japanese history, which ended in 1868. High-ranking Japanese nobility sat in the fancy compartments, and as many as six bearers carried it through the streets.
Yonemura knew that the palanquin belonged to a high-ranking noblewoman, since only the elite were permitted such ostentation. But it wasn’t until this year, as reported in the January issue of Smithsonian magazine, that she figured out who the palanquin was made for.
Yonemura received a call from Shin’ichi Saito, a curator at the Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum. A document he’d found in the Japanese National Archives listed the items that had been made for the 1856 marriage between shogun Tokugawa Iesada and Princess Atsuhime. He was sure the Sackler’s palanquin was made for Atsuhime. She would have sat in it, and six bearers would have carried her through the streets from her parents’ home to her new husband’s.
But Atsuhume was more than just a shogun’s third wife. Her husband died two years after their marriage, making her a widow at 23. Undaunted, Atsuhime renamed herself Tenshoin. When the Tokugawa clan resigned the shogunate and imperial rule resumed, Princess Atsuhime remained a force in politics, advancing her family’s position. Her life spanned the birth of a modern, powerful Japan. Atsuhime’s fascinating story is the subject of a 50-episode drama, currently airing on the Japanese public TV network NHK.
Watch part of the first episode below!
December 17, 2008
Frank Gohlke’s pictures of Midwestern grain elevators and small Texas towns have appeared in more than ten books. On a tour of his new show at the American Art Museum, the guide referred to Gohlke’s work as a “challenge” to the popular, almost romantic nature photos of Ansel Adams. Adams was a master of the darkroom, but he was also fastidious about removing human subjects from a frame he wanted to photograph.
Frank Gohlke did the reverse: a poet of the everyday, he took pictures of the boundaries where man and nature intersect. Hence the grain elevators, rising into the murky sky. Or the streets of Wichita Falls, Texas, after a tornado scattered devastation across them. Gohlke’s nature is not just lovely; it’s in flux and simmering with dangers.
I asked Gohlke about his relationship with Ansel Adams’ work.
“I didn’t challenge him to a duel or anything,” he chuckled. “But I couldn’t relate to the idea that nature and man are separate.”
Observe nature’s two faces—serene beauty and lurking threat—at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Accommodating Nature: the Photographs of Frank Gohlke” is up until March 3, 2009. “Georgia O’Keeffee and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities” closes on January 4.
(All images courtesy of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas)