November 21, 2011
“I’ve always wanted to curate an exhibit with a simple, one word title,” says curator Joann Moser of the American Art Museum. “And when I as looking at the works we wanted to use for this show, I realized they all had one thing in common: the idea of multiplicity.”
“Multiplicity,” the museum’s new exhibition of contemporary art selected from its permanent collection, explores the titular concept from a variety of angles: collaborative efforts between artists and printmakers, series of related images, repeated design motifs, and works contrasting depictions of similar subjects. The 83 artworks filling the expansive gallery challenge the viewer by presenting multiple angles, perspectives or meanings.
Many of the pieces were conceived of by artists and then executed in tandem with printmakers. “This interaction alters the stereotype of the artist working alone in the studio,” Moser says. “It celebrates the power of collaboration.”
Some works take the concept of collaboration to a whole new level, using software programs as a partner in generating art. R. Luke DuBois’ Hindsight is Always 20/20 is a jarring series of historically charged words—”emancipation” and “slavery” are bolded at the top of the two panels on display—laid out in the seemingly neutral form of an eye chart. “For each president, he took their State of the Union addresses and with a computer program, generated a list of the most commonly used words,” Moser says. “So what you have in these is a sort of capsule of what that presidency is all about.”
Many other pieces also hint at political relevance, often using contrasting images to comment on social issues. Enrique Chagoya’s Illegal Alien’s Guide to the Concept of Relative Surplus Value is an intricate, multi-paneled collage of characters and speech bubbles that obliquely relate to the identification of someone as “illegal.”
“He does it in the form of a codex, which is a traditional Mexican form of expression,” Moser says. “It’s not a story, but it has the feeling of a narrative.”
The many large-scale prints on display evoke multiplicity by creating multiple worlds within the same enormous visual space. D Train, by Richard Estes, is a nearly 7-foot-wide panorama of New York City divided sharply into two halves: an excessively bright day outside, and a richly glistening florescent subway car inside. A viewer can easily lose oneself in either side, depending on the position taken while standing in front of it.
One of the final works seen by visitors, at the back of the gallery, ironically conjures multiplicity by illustrating a once-abundant animal species that has now gone extinct. “The subject of this work refers to how passenger pigeons were killed to extinction in the 19th century,” Moser says, describing Visitation, by Walton Ford. In the painting, thousands of pigeons are packed to the horizon, fighting over the last scraps of food available. The painting is a striking convergence of art and science. (The actual body of the last surviving passenger pigeon is now in the collection of the Natural History Museum.)
The museum plans a full slate of public programs to complement the exhibition, including gallery talks and printmaking demonstrations as listed on the exhibition website. A full slideshow of the exhibition’s works is also available online, including complete images of the series that were too large to be displayed in their entirety in the gallery.
“Multiplicity” is on view at the American Art Museum through March 11, 2012.
August 2, 2011
Always sit with your back to the wall. Always. And especially in the American Old West. Had Wild Bill Hickok, the legendary gunfighter, Army scout, lawman and avid gambler not violated this cardinal rule in order to snag the last remaining spot at a poker game in a Deadwood saloon, I wouldn’t be writing this post today.
James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok (1837-1876) was the archetypical Wild West character. At six-feet tall, draped in buckskins and with long, flowing hair, blue-gray eyes and a straw-colored moustache, Hickok cut a striking figure.
And his weapon of choice? More than one, actually. He carried a pair of ivory-handled .36 caliber Colt 1851 Navy Revolvers in an open-top, dual-holstered rig. Hong Kong film director John Woo would have been proud. (See one of his guns on display in the new American Art Museum exhibition, “The Great American Hall of Wonders.”)
Though Hollywood has created an highly idealized version of the iconic Old West quick-draw gun duel, Wild Bill’s infamous deathblow to Dave Tutt on July 21, 1865, in Springfield, Missouri, is likely the first duel that comes closest to Tinseltown standards.
Tutt, a Confederate-turned-Union soldier—and a good shot himself—confronted Hickok in the town square from approximately 75 yards away. Tutt drew first. The two gunmen fired at nearly the same time, with Tutt’s shot straying while Hickok’s found its mark.
Though Hickok bragged about the number of men he had killed (hundreds), he likely exaggerated (six, maybe seven). But his expert marksmanship needed no embellishing. In a February 1867 interview, Harper’s Monthly writer Colonel George Ward Nichols recounts how Hickok drew a letter ‘O’ on a sign-board against a wall, “no bigger than a man’s heart,” wrote Nichols. And then from 50 yards away without even “sighting the pistol,” Hickok fired six shots from his Colt revolver into the center.
“Hickok typified the era of the man-killer or shootist, better known today as the gunfighter–a term in use as early as 1874 but not popularized until post-1900,” wrote Joseph G. Rosa, the gunman’s biographer in the June 2006 issue of Wild West magazine.
So here’s what went down 135 years ago today. Wild Bill was playing poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood in the Dakota Territory. Though he usually sat with his back to the wall, Hickok was forced to take the only seat available and no one would switch seats with him.
John “Crooked Nose Jack” McCall was able to get the drop on him.
McCall strode into the saloon, drew his pistol and shouted, “take that” and fired a a bullet into Wild Bill’s head, killing him instantly.
Hickok was holding a black pair of aces and a black pair of eights, which eventually became known as the “dead man’s hand.” Some claim the assassination may have been a paid hit; however, McCall later said that Wild Bill had killed his brother several years earlier.
McCall was arrested and brought to trial, but was acquitted by a jury of miners. After bragging about killing Hickok following his release, McCall was re-arrested, tried again, found guilty, and then hanged. Double jeopardy, you ask? Not applicable in this case, Deadwood was not a state and was located in Indian country. One final victory for Wild Bill.
July 14, 2011
Friday July 15 Discover the Inca Road
This Friday the American Indian Museum is offering an inside look into the Inca Road, the most extensive and advanced system of transportation in pre-Columbian South America. Extending from modern-day Ecuador to Argentina, the road covered an estimated 25,000 miles and now visitors can learn about the historical trail. Come to suite 4018 on the 4th level of the museum at 12:30 to take part in a series of realtime discussions with members of a multinational research team of engineers and archeologists located in the city of Cusco and the Ancash region of Peru, where they study the construction of the ancient South American highway. Listen as members of the team detail experiences and discoveries from their work. The two-hour event is free and is one of four broadcasts that make up the series.
Saturday July 16 Scavenger Hunt at American Art
Have a little fun this Saturday by going to the American Art Museum to play the scavenger hunt game, Pheon. Sign up at the Luce Foundation Center, 3rd Floor west wing of the museum, between 2:30 and 4. Work as a team as you try to navigate your way through this multimedia scavenger hunt. Test your ingenuity as you explore the collections, create objects and use your cell phone to text answers to clues that lead you to the finish line. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and come prepared with a sense of adventure and a text messaging enabled cell phone. This event is free and is fun for the whole family so take part in Pheon between 2:30 and 6 Saturday afternoon.
Sunday July 17 Explore the New American History Exhibit
There is a new exhibit at the American History Museum, join staff this Sunday as they provide an introduction and overview of For All the World to See, Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. Come to African American History and Culture gallery located on the East Wing of the second floor of the museum between 10:30 and 1:45. Discover the way visual images shaped and influenced the Civil Rights movement, transforming the fight for racial equality and justice. Listen as museum facilitators explain the framework of the exhibit and answer visitors’ questions. This is a free event and is appropriate for all ages.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian Institution events and exhibits see the GoSmithsonian Visitors Guide.
May 31, 2011
When you think about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), art may not be the first, or even the second, thing that comes to mind. A new traveling exhibition, “NASA|ART: 50 Years of Space Exploration,” on display at the Air and Space Museum from May 28 to October 9, just may change that.
The NASA|ART project was established in 1962 by NASA administrator James E. Webb. Its mission was simple—commission artwork that captured the essence of what the agency and the space program were all about, in ways that photographs simply could not, says Tom Crouch, senior curator of aeronautics and art at the museum.
Mercury Astronaut Gordon Cooper’s 1963 Faith 7 spacecraft launch, depicted in Mitchell Jamieson’s First Steps, marked the first time that an artist was sent to a space event. The program, initially launched by James Dean, still continues today, under the leadership of Burt Ulrich, the program’s curator at NASA Headquarters.
Dean helped select more than 70 works of art, including drawings, photographs, sculpture and other artistic renderings “that would both represent the NASA|ART collection as it was and is and celebrate the 50 year history of the agency,” Crouch says.
The collection, arranged chronologically, takes viewers through an exploration of space—from Mercury to Apollo to Gemini, to the space shuttle, aeronautics and beyond—as told from the perspective of artists including Annie Leibovitz, Alexander Calder, Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol, among others.
“Artists are given this sort of back door view of what NASA’s all about and what’s nice is that they can share that experience through their own imagination to the public,” Ulrich says. “It really took a lot of foresight, I think, for James Webb who started the program. I think he had this idea that through the great ages of history, art is often the residue of that [...] and it’s such a wonderful way of looking back at history.” In addition to depicting the people, places and great events that viewers already know, the artists also introduce viewers to other astronauts and aspects of space exploration they may not.
Native American artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith uses various aspects of Native American symbolism in her painting Indian Science, which honors the first Native American astronaut John Bennett Herrington. Annie Leibovitz’s photograph entitled Eileen Collins captures the first female pilot (Discovery, 1995) and the first female commander of a space shuttle (Columbia, 1999) during training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Artist and fashion designer Stephen Sprouse (1953-2004) used imagery from the Sojourner Rover to create a work of art that was essentially a dress and a pair of slippers. The piece called NASA Rover Mars Pink, carried an additional twist. With a pair of 3-D glasses, the dress took on a whole new dimension. The designer debuted it in a line of clothing he showed at NYC fashion week in 2000.
Towards the end of the exhibition, artists commemorate the astronauts from the Columbia and Challenger missions in “Remembering Lost Crews.” Artist Chakaia Booker uses pieces of a space shuttle tire donated to her by NASA to create a sculpture, Columbia Tribute, which resembles a black star, hanging on the wall above the gallery.
The final piece, though, is an unexpected musical composition written by Terry Riley with a multimedia component designed by Willie Williams, and called “Sun Rings.” Performed by the Kronos Quartet, the piece incorporates actual sounds of space—radio waves from the far reaches of the universe converted into sound waves.
“The whole exhibit is the arrogance of man’s imagination,” says Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lt. Uhura on “Star Trek” and who later worked for NASA in the 1970s and 80s recruiting women and minorities to the space program. “I realize what a powerful word that is, [and] it’s not negative,” she continues. “This is what all the art is—to imagine what it is that takes us from ground zero to as far as the imagination can take you and then beyond; an incredible collection.”
“NASA|ART: 50 Years of Space Exploration is on display at the Air & Space Museum from May 28 to October 9. The museum is open daily (except December 25) from 10AM to 7:30 PM for extended summer hours. See the website for more details.
Tuesday, May 31 To the Moon!
A decade ago, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced his decision to send Americans to the moon. John Logsdon, author of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, is on hand to explain the behind-the-scenes scientific endeavors and the historical legacies of NASA’s Apollo program. Free. 1:00 PM. Air and Space Museum. If you can’t make it, check out this webcast of the event.
Wednesday, June 1 Behind the Scenes of the Ocean Hall
Meet a Smithsonian scientist in the Sant Ocean Hall to see specimens up close, learn about science underway in the field, new discoveries, specimen collection and the highlights and rigors of pursuing a quest for knowledge working as a Smithsonian scientist. Free. 1:00 to 3:00 PM. Natural History Museum
Thursday, June 2 Ault’s Disquieting World
During the 1940s, a troubled and anxious artist named George Ault painted some of the most original works of art in America. Little was known at the time of Ault’s haunting rural landscape paintings, but they seem to reflect the trying times of a nation at the cusp of war. Perhaps his works were “a desperate attempt to control the muddled chaos not only in his personal life, but also in the world at large.” View the exhibition, To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America and then come hear historian and writer Stephen May discuss Ault’s work and psyche in this lecture. Free. 7:00 PM. American Art Museum.
Friday, June 3 Mummies Sneak Peek
Explore Egyptian cosmology, learn about burial rituals, see a step-by-step tutorial on the mummification process and view a display of mummy masks in the sneak peek of the Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt exhibition. Full exhibition will go on display November 17. Natural History Museum
For updates on all exhibitions and events, visit our companion website goSmithsonian.com