February 17, 2012
Friday, February 17 Gallery Talk: Jacob Lawrence
Inspired by the shapes and colors of Harlem, painter Jacob Lawrence was, as the New York Times wrote, “among the most impassioned visual chroniclers of the African-American experience.” Find out why in this gallery tour led by Jacquelyn D. Serwer, curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Free. 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. Hirshhorn Museum.
Saturday, February 18 Presidential Family Fun Day
Get your patriotic spirit up at the Kogod Courtyard’s presidential family party. Enjoy fife and drum performances, learn about American history, and make presidential crafts to take home with you. You might even meet George Washington. Free. 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Kogod Courtyard, American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.
Sunday, February 19 Artuaré Tour
See Artuaré through the eyes of the artist himself with a special tour by Steven M. Cummings. Cummings will discuss the inspirations and stories behind this exhibition of his artistic evolution. Free, but make a reservation at 202-633-4844. 2:00 p.m. Anacostia Community Museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
February 16, 2012
Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, will break ground with much fanfare. As announced yesterday, the February 22 groundbreaking ceremony on the National Mall will be emceed by actress and singer Phylicia Rashad, will feature former First Lady Laura Bush and will include remarks by President Barack Obama. The event will also feature musical performances by opera singer Denyce Graves, baritone Thomas Hampson, jazz pianist Jason Moran, the U.S. Navy Band and others.
The museum will be located 0n the National Mall on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets, between the American History Museum and the Washington Monument. Scheduled to open in 2015, the museum will be the only national museum devoted exclusively to African American life, art, history and culture. Plans first began in 2003, when Congress passed the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act. Since July 2005, when Lonnie Bunch was named the director, the museum has began collecting artifacts and producing exhibitions displayed in the American History Museum and elsewhere.
In April 2009, an official jury selected the design for the building, choosing David Adjaye’s bronze, multi-tiered structure. “The form of the building suggests a very upward mobility,” Adjaye said in a recent interview with Smithsonian. “For me, the story is one that’s extremely uplifting, as a kind of world story. It’s not a story of a people that were taken down, but actually a people that overcame.”
Of course, the National Mall is home to many Smithsonian Museums—and has hosted a number of groundbreaking ceremonies throughout the Institution’s history. We assembled a selection of shovel-at-the-ready images from the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
The Natural History Museum was originally constructed as the U.S. National Museum Building. Architects Joseph Coerten Hornblower and James Rush Marshall, Secretary Samuel P. Langley and Smithsonian employees looked on as the first shovel of dirt was lifted in 1904.
Solomon Brown worked at the Smithsonian for more than fifty years, from 1852 to 1906, and was likely the Institution’s first African-American employee, hired as a cabinetmaker soon after its founding in 1846. On the 100th anniversary of the groundbreaking, in June of 2004, a tree was planted in his name on the grounds of the National Museum of Natural History.
Geologist George P. Merrill and others gathered in 1916 to watch sod lifted for the Freer Gallery of Art, which was completed in 1923 to house railroad manufacturer Charles Lang Freer’s extensive collection of classical Asian art.
In 1972, the Smithsonian secretary Dillon S. Ripley and Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger turn over the first shovelfuls of dirt for the Air and Space Museum. They were joined by Representative Kenneth Gray and Senators Jennings Randolph and J. William Fulbright. Before the building was constructed, the museum was known as the National Air Museum, and its artifacts were housed in a number of Smithsonian buildings.
The Quadrangle complex was built behind the castle to house the National Museum of African Art, the Sackler Gallery of Asian Art, the S. Dillon Ripley Center and the Enid A. Haupt Garden. Then-vice president George Bush was on hand to supervise the groundbreaking in 1983.
The Anacostia Community Museum was originally known as the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, designed to reflect the history and traditions of families, organizations, individuals and communities, as well as serve the Anacostia Community. A groundbreaking ceremony in 1985 included the museum’s founding director John Kinard and then-Smithsonian secretary Robert McCormick Adams.
February 7, 2012
Our inquisitive readers are rising to the challenge we gave them last month. The questions are pouring in and we’re ready for more. Do you have any questions for our curators? Submit your questions here.
How much is the Hope Diamond worth? — Marjorie Mathews, Silver Spring, Maryland
That’s the most popular question we get, but we don’t really satisfy people by giving them a number. There are a number of answers, but the best one is that we honestly don’t know. It’s a little bit like Liz Taylor’s jewels being sold in December—all kinds of people guessed at what they would sell for, but everybody I know was way off. Only when those pieces were opened up to bidding at a public auction could you find out what their values were. When they were sold, then at least for that day and that night you could say, well, they were worth that much. The Hope Diamond is kind of the same way, but more so. There’s simply nothing else like it. So how do you put a value on the history, on the fact it’s been here on display for over 50 years and a few hundred million people have seen it, and on that fact it’s a rare blue diamond on top of everything else? You don’t. – Jeffrey E. Post, mineralogist, National Museum of Natural History
What’s the worst impact of ocean acidification so far?- Nancy Schaefer, Virginia Beach, Virginia
The impacts of ocean acidification are really just starting to be felt, but two big reports that came out in 2011 show that it could have very serious effects on coral reefs. These studies did not measure the warming effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but rather its effect of making the ocean more acidic when it dissolves in the ocean. Places where large amounts of carbon dioxide seep into the water from the sea floor provide a natural experiment and show us how ocean waters might look, say, 50 or 100 years from now. Both studies showed branching, lacy, delicate coral forms are likely to disappear, and with them that kind of three-dimensional complexity so many species depend on. Also, other species that build a stony skeleton or shell, such as oysters or mussels, are likely to be affected. This happens because acidification makes carbonate ions, which these species need for their skeletons, less abundant.
Nancy Knowlton, marine biologist
National Museum of Natural History
Art and artifacts from ancient South Pacific and Pacific Northwest tribes have similarities in form and function. Is it possible that early Hawaiians caught part of the Kuroshio Current of the North Pacific Gyre to end up along the northwest coast of America from northern California to Alaska? — April Amy Croan, Maple Valley, Washington
Those similarities have given rise to various theories, including trans-Pacific navigation, independent drifts of floating artifacts, inadvertent crossings by ships that have lost their rudders or rigging, or whales harpooned in one area that died or were captured in a distant place. Some connections are well-known, like feather garment fragments found in an archaeological site in Southeast Alaska that appear to have been brought there by whaling ships that had stopped in the Hawaiian Islands, a regular route for 19th-century whalers. Before the period of European contact, the greatest similarities are with the southwest Pacific, not Hawaii. The Kushiro current would have facilitated Asian coastal contacts with northwestern North America, but would not have helped Hawaiians. The problem of identification is one of context, form and dating. Most of the reported similarities are either out of their original context (which can’t be reconstructed), or their form is not specific enough to relate to another area’s style, or the date of creation cannot be established. To date there is no acceptable proof for South Pacific-Northwest Coast historical connections that predates the European whaling era, except for links that follow the coastal region of the North Pacific into Alaska.
William Fitzhugh, archeologist
Natural History Museum
February 1, 2012
February is Black History Month, and if you’re wondering how to properly commemorate the holiday, look no further. There are lots of (mostly free) events around the Mall this month celebrating African American heritage.
Black History Month Family Day: On Saturday, February 4, kick off the month with a full afternoon of music, performances and crafts at the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum. Enjoy the blues stylings of “Guitar Man” Warner Williams and a puppet show, Can You Spell Harlem? Plus, learn the art of step in a workshop by the Taratibu Youth Association step performers. After the festivities end, head over to the McEvoy Auditorium for a screening of Chris Rock’s documentary, Good Hair. Free. 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Film screening at 3:30 p.m.
Tales from Mother Africa: Kenyan poet, singer, storyteller and dancer Anna Mwalagho weaves traditional tales from “Mama Africa” into an interactive performance at S. Dillon Ripley Center’s Discovery Theater on February 2 and 3. The program is geared toward young children, but a little singing and dancing is good for adults, too. Tickets required: $8 for adults, $6 for children, $5 for Resident Associate Members, $3 for children under 2. 10:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Enslavement to Emancipation: Celebrate the 150th anniversary of the passage of the District of Columbia’s Emancipation Act in 1862 with a video and discussion at the Anacostia Community Museum. The talk will touch on a wide range of subjects, including the Civil War, laws governing slavery, the abolitionist movement, and civil rights. Free. Reserve a spot at 202-633-4844. February 5 at 2:00 p.m. and and February 24 at 10:30 a.m.
Monticello, Slavery, and the Hemingses: Join NPR host Michel Martin and Harvard Law professor Annette Gordon-Reed for a discussion about the six Monticello slave families featured in the exhibition “Paradox of Liberty: Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello” at the American History Museum. Hosted by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Martin and Gordon-Reed will challenge conventional wisdom about slavery and the political reality of the era. Professor Gordon-Reed’s book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family will also be discussed. Free. February 6 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Baird Auditorium, Natural History Museum.
Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975: The Black Power movement has been both venerated and vilified, but what exactly did it mean? Test your knowledge at the National Portrait Gallery’s screening of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, which documents this tumultuous period and features interviews with activists Angela Davis, Bobby Seale and Stokely Carmichael. Free. February 18 at 1:00 p.m.
The Black List: Reinterpreting the exclusionary definition of a “blacklist,” photographer/filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and NPR’s Elvis Mitchell compiled a list of people who represent the African American experience in the 20th century. The result is an inspiring exhibition of large-format photographic portraits and film interviews of artists, politicians, writers, athletes and civil rights activists who have made a difference in their fields. The 50 portraits on display include musician John Legend, artist Kara Walker and political activist Angela Davis. On view at the National Portrait Gallery until April 22.
Groundbreaking for the National Museum of African American History and Culture: Almost a decade after the establishment of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, construction on the museum site breaks ground on February 22. Catch the webcast of the groundbreaking ceremony, which will feature speeches and musical performances starting at 9:00 a.m. The museum construction should be finished in 2015, so you’ll have plenty of time to head down to the new site between the Washington Monument and the American History Museum and check its progress.
For the full schedule of Black History Month events, click here.
We know you’ve got enough “looking forward to 2012″ lists under your belt by now; our Who to Follow post alone will keep you pretty busy. But we can’t resist sneaking in just one more. Here’s our guide to the exhibitions we’re most excited for this year. Mark your calendars now so you’ll have no excuse to say you’re bored later.
A new look at Monticello: Founding father Thomas Jefferson called slavery an “abominable crime”. . . but owned more than 600 slaves who sustained his plantation, Monticello. “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty,” opened on January 27 in the American History Museum‘s National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery, and focuses on the long-overlooked history of slave life at the third president’s Virginia home. Be sure to keep up with the latest news from Monticello on Twitter at @TJMonticello.
Happy birthday, Jackson Pollock: If he were alive today, Jackson Pollock would have turned 100 on January 28. To honor the stormy life and revolutionary work of the modern art icon, the Archives of American Art presents Pollock’s personal family photos, letters, and writings in “Art Memories Arrested in Space, a centennial tribute to Jackson Pollock” at the Reynolds Center through May 15.
Game on: Can video games be art? To answer that question, the American Art Museum‘s upcoming exhibit, “The Art of Video Games,” pulls together the most arresting graphics and innovative designs in the gaming world, on view March 16 through September 30. Even if you forgot to vote for your favorite game, don’t miss out on GameFest, which kicks off the exhibit with three days packed with open play, panel talks with artists and designers, and live-action gaming. To tide you over til March, follow curator Chris Melissinos at @CMelissinos for updates and teasers.
Hokusai: In anticipation of the Cherry Blossom Centennial, the Sackler Gallery presents a study of Katsushika Hosukai, Japan’s most famous artist (yes, that’s his Great Wave that has probably graced every college dorm wall in America). “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,” his most acclaimed woodblock print series, was first published in 1830 when Hokusai was in his 70s and goes on view on March 24 through June 17. The gallery has set up an interactive website with more information on Hokusai’s life and artistic technique.
Ai Weiwei: The controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, arrested last year, brings a new installation, “Fragments,” to the Sackler Gallery beginning May 12. Using antique wood salvaged from Qing Dynasty temples, Ai worked with skilled traditional carpenters to create what he calls an “irrational structure” that both affirms and defies centuries of architectural traditions. In October, the Hirshhorn gets in on the action with an exhibit of 25 of Ai’s recent works entitled “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” For an English translation of Ai’s Twitter, follow @aiwwenglish.