July 20, 2012
Most art exhibits begin with a theme and then seek out works that fit under that unifying umbrella. At first glance, “40 Under 40,” the new Renwick Gallery exhibition, opening Friday, July 20, to commemorate the museum’s 40th anniversary, seems to defy that convention. Exhibit director Nicholas R. Bell says, “No themes were planned. Instead, themes emerged organically.”
The exhibition seeks to demonstrate the ways in which craft has changed in the past 40 years, and how young artists have interpreted those changes. “We are trying to create a visceral feel in these works,” Bell continues, “So that you can walk into Nick Dong’s Enlightenment Room, and you can touch Christy Matson’s Sonic Structure [II].”
The featured artisans were all born between 1972, when the gallery was founded, and 1984. The works experiment with new and traditional media, and many re-purpose materials with an eye to conservation and sustainability.
Brooklyn-based artists William Hilgendorf and Jason Horvath recycled the wood from the Coney Island boardwalk into their piece
“Uhuru,” “Cyclone Lounger,” a long, curvy chair that is both beautiful and practical. “We’re interested in the dying art of storytelling,” says Hilgendorf. “When objects have stories behind them, that makes them more valuable to you, because you want to tell those stories. You want to keep the objects for a long time, so they don’t just end up in a landfill.”
The artists are joined together by age, a unifier that means a great deal in the post-9/ll world of financial crises, environmental fears and global security woes. There is an air of caution and irony that tinges even the most delightful pieces (a teapot, for example, that is really a gun), just as there is an air of playfulness that reigns in the most caustic.
Artist Mia Pearlman walked into the Renwick’s gallery space last year and knew exactly what she would create for the exhibit. “Normally,” she says, “you walk into a square, white room. But here, there are tiled floors and arching windows.” Her piece features two entire walls in the museum. On one side, gray and white paper rains down from ceiling to floor. On the other, white, airy paper floats upwards from floor to ceiling. “In this age of uncertainty, we try to put order to chaos. We have wonderful things and we have tragic things and we are trying to have a conversation with both. We are caught in this larger thing that is both light and dark,” she says.
This dichotomy of light and dark, pretty yet painful, is consistent throughout the various media the exhibit highlights. Jeffrey Clancy’s Collection of Curious Spoons reminds us of the delicate, aristocratic silver spoon held by the most fortunate. But these silver spoons are large and unruly. They are clunky, and, in the words of the artist, “look like something was just dug up.” They are beautiful in their grotesqueness, and mock the dainty, traditional silver spoons that inspired them. One particularly jarring piece, Lauren Kalman’s Hard Wear, displays pearls on a thin gold wire, wrapped around each tooth of the photographed woman. The pearls are exquisite, yet the sight of wire in between a woman’s teeth is disturbing and unnatural.
Although a general sense of unease sneaks into many of the pieces featured in “40 Under 40,” many of the works also share the mere love of craft. Gabriel Craig, an artist based in Detroit, Michigan, sets up “The Pro-Bono Jeweler” in cities around the country, allowing passersby to make whatever their hearts desire out of colorful clays. “The important thing is the outreach,” he says. “I like to remind people that things can be made by hand.”
Join the curator for a discussion at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, followed by an open house in which you can speak with many of the artists, July 20 12:00-2:30 p.m.
By Jeanie Riess
July 19, 2012
Friday, July 20 Living Earth Festival
Do roasted green chiles and live music sound appealing to you? What about hands-on workshops and engaging discussions about sustainability and farmers market fresh veggies? This weekend, look no further than the National Museum of the American Indian’s annual, three-day long Living Earth Festival. The event celebrates indigenous contributions to environment and encourages the diffusion of knowledge and activism. The chiles, roasted by Cherokee, Siletz and other tribal farmers, growers and chefs, are just a small part of the festivities. Tribal-owned food cooperatives will discuss sustainability while local and Native chefs compete in an Iron Chef-style cook-off. Hands-on family activities will also be offered. The festival includes a live outdoor concert featuring the talents of Wes Studi, Stevie Salas, Jack Gladstone, Kinnie Starr, and Brule. Free. 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Sunday July 22. National Museum of the American Indian.
Saturday, July 21 Movie day
The heat has been unbearable this summer, so why not escape it with a good movie? As part of the Dance DC Festival, the American Art Museum is offering two viewing options depending on your mood. If you’re looking for a thriller, Black Swan, starring tutu-costumed Natalie Portman, will show at 1:00 p.m. For those of you feeling a little nostalgic for bell bottoms, disco balls and a younger, (more fit) John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever will show at 4:00 p.m. Free. McEvoy Auditorium, American Art Museum.
Sunday, July 22 Book signings at Air and Space Museum
This Saturday, come check out some of the awesome aviation on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center—the Discovery space shuttle included. While you’re there, get books signed by a pair of legendary pilots. Dave “Bio” Baranek signs copies of TOPGUN Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death, and Hollywood Glory as One of America’s Best Fighter Jocks from 12 to 4 p.m, and Col. Wolfgang Samuel will sign copies of his books Glory Days, Watson’s Whizzers, American Raiders, The War of Our Childhood, German Boy, I Always Wanted to Fly, and Coming to Colorado from 12 to 5 p.m. Free, $15 parking fee per vehicle. Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
July 6, 2012
According to the theory of the six degrees of separation, she is connected to Albert Einstein, Cézanne, Eleanor Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Frida Kahlo and President Ulysses S. Grant.
But who is Peggy Bacon?
Bacon (1895-1997) was a New York artist and talented caricaturist of celebrities and artists, however, her name is by no means well known. The Archives of American Art specialists, who created the “Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon” exhibit, do not expect people to know who Peggy Bacon is—in fact, that’s the point.
While the original concept of the six degrees of separation dates back to Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who developed a radio telegraph system, the term became commonplace in 1990 when playwright John Guare debuted his production, “Six Degrees of Separation.” The play was based on the idea that no more than six acquaintances separate any two people.
Playing off the popular celebrity trivia game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in which players try to prove that any actor or actress can be linked to Kevin Bacon in fewer than six steps of film roles, the “Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon” exhibit creators hoped to show how a relatively unknown but well-connected artist was linked through archival documents to many of art and society’s most influential people.
“We wanted it to be surprising,” says Mary Savig, the exhibit’s curator and an archives specialist at Archives of American Art. “We chose Peggy Bacon because we knew nobody would know who she is.”
On display June 27, 2012, through November 4, 2012, in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, demonstrates how artists inform and inspire each other. “They don’t just work alone in their studios,” Savig said.
The exhibit is also intended to demonstrate the “shrinking world theory.”
The advent of radio technology, telecommunications and most recently, social media, has vastly increased the connectedness among the world’s inhabitants. In fact, Savig says, a study conducted last year by Facebook and the University of Milan demonstrated that social media has reduced the average degree of relatedness between each person on Earth to a mere 4.74 degrees.
“These documents show exactly how people are personally connected,” Savig says, pointing to a layout of correspondence and photographs connecting Bacon to artists like Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Janice Lowry, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Archival letters and materials provide paper trails to document each of the connections in Bacon’s web of six degrees.
The incredible ability to present such detailed documentation stems from the concerns of former Director of the Detroit Institute of Art E.P. Richardson and art collector Lawrence A. Fleischman. Richardson and Fleischman founded the Archives in 1954 in Detroit as an effort to address the lack of archival material documenting American art and artists. The Archives of American Art became a part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1970, and today holds more than 16 million items in the world’s largest collection of primary resources relating to the history of American art.
The Archives’ fastidious documentation and research of their collection is what allowed for the success of “Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon.”
In fact, on the exhibit’s opening day, a member of the public was shocked to find her former babysitter incorporated into Bacon’s web of relatedness.
“The woman pointed to the picture of Mary Chapin Carpenter and said, ‘She used to babysit me,’” Savig explains. Carpenter, a folk and country music singer, is bubbled into Bacon’s web as a sixth-degree connection.
Carpenter is included on the web for her connection to Joseph Cornell, who was the inspiration for her 1996 song “Ideas Are Like Stars.” Cornell is connected to Ad Reinhardt for their shared Christmas Eve birthdays and the fact that both artists’ works were displayed in art dealer Peggy Guggenheim’s 1943 Collages exhibit. Reinhardt described in a memoir how in 1938 he listened to loud jazz music carrying through the walls of the neighboring studio to his, occupied by Stuart Davis. Davis was represented by art dealer Edith Halpert who represented his work at The Downtown Gallery for close to four decades. Halpert opened her gallery in 1926 at which time she displayed the works of Japanese-born Yasuo Kuniyoshi. And Kuniyoshi developed a friendship with Peggy Bacon while the two attended classes together at the Art Students League.
The visitor’s relationship with Carpenter drives home the entire point of the exhibit, Savig says. “We all really can connect to Bacon.”
June 29, 2012
The exhibit, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance, arrives roughly one month after a group of hopefuls uncovered what they believe is Earhart’s anti-freckle cream jar. The jar was recovered with other artifacts from a tiny coral atoll in the Pacific, where female skeletal remains were reportedly discovered in 1940.
Earhart’s life is documented in a clockwise journey around the one-room exhibit through a thoughtful and deliberate selection of photographs, artwork and memorabilia.
In a 1903 portrait taken of Earhart at the age of 5 or 6, she is donned in a frilly, white frock with a large bow fastened in her hair. The young, wide-eyed girl looks a far cry from the jumpsuit-clad aviator captured in later photographs of Earhart leaning against a Lockheed Vega, the famous aircraft that made an appearance in the 2006 film Night at the Museum and is on view at the National Air and Space Museum.
Another photograph shows Earhart standing with Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon, the two men who piloted the flight that earned Earhart the distinction of being the first woman to cross the Atlantic by airplane. She became an overnight celebrity, a reputation she didn’t relish, since she had only been a backseat passenger for the flight. An embarrassed Earhart confessed that aside from navigation tasks, “I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.”
Earhart’s first solo transatlantic flight took place four years later in 1932, when she piloted the Lockheed Vega. The cabin was so tight she could only spare room to bring a few small accessories, including a leather flying cap and a bottle of smelling salts that she used to stay alert throughout the difficult flight.
The woman behind the leather flying cap springs to life in a selection of video and audio footage. Earhart is ceremoniously christening a plane for Transcontinental Air Transport. Earhart speaks into a microphone and addresses a crowd and radio audience, her voice sweet and friendly, her manner humble—almost reluctant to be at the center of attention. Earhart flashes her winning smile, then bashfully smashes a bottle of champagne on the propeller of a TAT plane.
“It’s great to give visitors the opportunity to hear her and see her,” said curator Frank Goodyear.
A more intimate look into Earhart’s personal life can be gleaned from a letter she penned to her fiancé the night before their nuptials. George Putnum, a publisher and explorer who helped select Earhart to be the woman on the 1928 transatlantic flight piloted by Stultz and Gordon, proposed to Earhart six times before she finally acquiesced to his requests in 1931. The letter she wrote on the eve of their union depicts a young woman filled with trepidation even hours before the ceremony.
“You must know my reluctance to marry…” she wrote. “I must exact a cruel promise and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.”
It appears they did have a successful union, Goodyear explained, although infidelities were rumored to be true of both parties. After her disappearance, Putnam personally funded months of additional searches, combing the Pacific long after the U.S. Navy abandoned recovery efforts.
One of the last photographs taken of Earhart during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe shows the pilot shortly before she vanished on July 2, 1937. Earhart’s cropped hair is wind-touseled, an easy smile plays upon her face.
“It’s a quiet picture,” Goodyear said.
Even though Earhart was rumored to be sick and exhausted toward the last legs of her journey, her expression in the photograph is of a woman in her own element; confident, happy, and hauntingly at peace.
“It’s apparent from this picture, flying was her absolute passion,” Goodyear said.
“One Life: Amelia Earhart” will run through May 27, 2013.
June 14, 2012
Friday June 15: Book Signing: Phillip Thomas Tucker
Before the Tuskegee Airmen took to the skies during World War II, no African American military aviators had served in the United States armed forces. When faced with adversity and the restrictions of the Jim Crow Laws, this group of pilots flew with distinction. Between 1941 and 1946, 992 were trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. This Friday, Phillip Thomas Tucker, prolific writer and historian will sign copies of his book Father of the Tuskegee Airmen, John C. Robinson. Copies of the book are available at the signing. One of the planes used by the Tuskegee pilots at Moton Field, the PT-13D U.S. Army Air Corps Stearman, is slated to go on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in 2015. Free. 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. American History Museum.
Saturday June 16: Developing Connoisseurship in American Glass
Even glass has a history—especially when it comes to the decorative arts. This Saturday, trace this art form from the Colonial period to the present. In this fascinating, all-day seminar, Glass historian and educator Mary Cheek Mills will unravel the mystery of one of the most-used materials in the decorative arts. Learn important details assessing glass color, weight, form, function, technique, decoration and more. Purchase tickets here. 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. S. Dillon Ripley Center.
Sunday June 17: Native Music: “Jim Thorpe: American Sunlight and Shadow”
In case you missed the memo, this Sunday is Father’s Day. What better present to give him than to spend some quality time? Bring him and the whole family to join Jack Gladstone, Montana’s Blackfeet troubadour, for an original multimedia musical performance honoring the enduring spirit of Native American athletes, especially Sac and Fox Olympian Jim Thorpe, who swept the Pentathlon and Decathlon events exactly 100 years ago at the Stockholm Olympics. This program is presented in support of the museum’s exhibition, “Best in the World, Native Athletes in the Olympics,” now on view through September 3, 2012. Seats are available on a first come, first served basis. Free. 3:30 p.m. American Indian Museum.