July 27, 2010
All good things must come to an end and this week, we must bid adieu to several exhibits closing in early August. Be sure to see them before they close and are gone forever!
Black Box: Chris Chong Chan Fui — Closing August 1, 2010
The Hirshhorn’s Black Box theater showcases exhibitions of contemporary artists who use film or video as their creative medium. Chris Chong Chan Fui’s short film Block B captures dramas that unfold night and day on the various floors of a huge apartment complex, that houses Indian expatriates working on temporary contracts. The artist contrasts the static cinematography with vivid unpredictable narrative. Block B suggests issues related to surveillance and voyeurism, but also evokes the dramatic elements that are part of the fabric of daily life.
A Rare Encounter: Hope Diamond and Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond — Closing August 1, 2010
In this exhibit at the Natural History Musem, the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond and the Hope Diamond are displayed together for the first time. The Wittelsbach-Graff’s deep blue color, flawless clarity, and royal history make it one of the most celebrated gemstones known. Its story goes back over 340 years, and the diamond has not appeared in public for more than 50 years. Both diamonds come from India and share the same rare blue color. Could they have come from the same mine? Smithsonian scientists compare the properties of both gems and explore this intriguing possibility. While the exhibit closes August 1, the Hope Diamond will continue to be on view on the second floor of the museum.
HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor: Part 1 — Closing August 1, 2010
The featured artists selected for this exhibition at the American Indian Museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York draw upon this rich subject in multifaceted ways, using both the material and concept of skin as a metaphor for widespread issues surrounding race, representation, as well as personal, historical and environmental trauma and perseverance. Part I includes solo installations by Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Inupiaq/Athabascan) and works by Nadia Myre (Anishinaabe).
Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort – Closing August 8, 2010
Brian Jungen is widely regarded as the foremost Native artist of his generation; his art transforms the familiar and banal into exquisite objects that reference themes of globalization, pop culture, museums, and the commodification of Indian imagery. He first came to prominence with Prototypes for New Understandings (1998-2005), which fashioned Nike footwear into masks that suggested Northwest Coast iconography. His work has also included a pod of whales made from plastic chairs, totem poles made from golf bags, and a massive basketball court made from 224 sewing tables. This exhibit at the American Indian Museum in D.C. features some of these iconic works as well as some pieces which have, until now, never been shown in the United States.
Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America – Closing August 8, 2010
This exhibition at the Heye Center features rare and archival photographs and film of Native skaters, as well as skatedecks from Native companies and contemporary artists, to celebrate the vibrancy, creativity, and controversy of American Indian skate culture. Skateboarding is one of the most popular sports on Indian reservations and has inspired American Indian and Native Hawaiian communities to host skateboard competitions and build skate parks to encourage their youth. Native entrepreneurs own skateboard companies and sponsor community-based skate teams. Native artists and filmmakers, inspired by their skating experiences, credit the sport with teaching them a successful work ethic.
Graphic Masters III: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum — Closing August 8, 2010
On view are watercolors, pastels, and drawings from the 1960s to the 1990s, to celebrate the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists’ works on paper. The works on view reveal the central importance of this medium for American artists, both as studies for creations in other media and as finished works of art. Artists represented include such masters as Robert Arneson, Jennifer Bartlett, Philip Guston, Luis Jimenez, and Wayne Thiebaud.
July 14, 2010
Take to the highway—If the sweltering summer heat has you itching to hit the road, don’t forget your camera. The folks at Eye Level have culled together some of the finest paintings of popular road tripping destinations in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. With such gems as Ray Strong’s 1934 portrait of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Thomas Moran’s late 1800s painting of Yellowstone National Park, Eye Level hopes that travelers will match the locations in the paintings with images from their vacations. If any of the places featured in these paintings show up on your road trip itinerary, take a snapshot and upload it to the blog’s Flickr group. From Alaska to Georgia and Highway 1 to Route 66, you’re bound to have a photo to add to the mix.
What’s all the hoopla?— It seems as though the era of the parking meter may be waning. “Pay and Display” parking stations are replacing the old quarter-slot meters, and the new NYC Hoop is on the horizon, putting those same meters at risk of obsolescence as a do-it-yourself bike rack. What’s the NYC Hoop? In 2008, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum teamed up with Google and the city’s Department of Transportation (among others) to hold the CityRacks Design Competition, which challenged designers to create the future bike rack of the city, where the number of cyclists jumped 66% from 2007 to 2009. Winners Ian Mahaffy and Maarten De Greeve invented something that looks suspiciously like the bicycle tires that will be chained to it. Check out the Cooper-Hewitt’s Design Blog for pictures of the pleasantly rotund winning design that will soon be flooding the streets of Manhattan.
Native America’s pastime— In honor of baseball season, Smithsonian’s SIRIS blog (where the archivists and librarians have the chance to show off their favorites from the collections) has posted a small collection of photos commemorating the well-documented but little-known participation of Native Americans in the sport. The photos were taken between 1879 and 1894 of the baseball teams at the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Famous for producing athletes including Jim Thorpe, this off-reservation boarding school was one of many that aimed to assimilate Native American children into majority American culture.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…blue igloo? As it turns out, that giant blue igloo-esque installment recently added to the Udvar-Hazy Center is… a planetarium! Many thanks to the AirSpace blog for clearing things up. As we’ve already gathered from its unusual appearance, this is no ordinary planetarium. For starters, it’s portable AND inflatable, reaching its full size in only five minutes. Instead of sitting in chairs, 30-40 audience members sit on the floor of the museum for stargazing. Educators can design their own shows to teach about everything from constellations to solar eclipses.
June 29, 2010
Today, we take a moment to commemorate the 205th birthday of American sculptor Hiram Powers. Born in Woodstock, Vermont, on June 29, 1805, Powers got his real start working as an artist in a wax museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was noticed for his representations of scenes from Dante’s Inferno, and then moved to Washington, D.C. in 1834, where he created sculptures of prominent politicians. Then, in 1837, he made his way to Florence, Italy, and established his own studio.
Just six years later, in 1843, the neoclassical sculptor produced his most acclaimed work The Greek Slave, a full-length marble statue of a Greek Christian woman in chains. The sculpture traveled around as an exhibition throughout the United States and became both the first nude statue widely accepted by the American public and a figure used to symbolize the abolitionist cause. ”It was a tour de force. People knew about it far more than any other piece,” says George Gurney, deputy chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It had been shown at the Crystal Palace (for the Great Exhibition of 1851) in London and at the New York Crystal Palace in 1853, among other venues. And as a result Gurney says, “He [Powers] was the first American sculptor to have international fame.”
The Smithsonian is fortunate to have an extensive collection of Powers’s work, including two versions of The Greek Slave, at its American Art Museum. “He represented the type of subjects—mythological, religious, political and literary—that appealed to people in the day,” says Gurney.
Here is a highlights tour:
Clytie - In 1873, Powers carved a marble bust of Clytie, a water nymph from Greek mythology, that is now on display on the second floor, east wing of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). As myth has it, Clytie fell in love with Apollo and never took her eyes off of him. Even when she became a sunflower, she faced him, the sun. In Powers’s sculpture, Clytie wears a sunflower in her hair.
Eve Disconsolate – SAAM also has two versions of Powers’s famous Eve Disconsolate. One is a marble bust (right) on display on the second floor, east wing, and the other is a full-length plaster model in the Luce Foundation Center, the visible art storage and study center on the third and fourth floors of the museum. The sculpture is Hiram’s attempt to convey Eve in the moment she gave in to temptation. Or as the artist once explained, the “expression of bewilderment, distress and remorse, which must have appeared on the face.”
Thomas Jefferson – On display on SAAM’s second floor, south wing is a full-length, plaster model of Thomas Jefferson. The marble version of the sculpture actually stands at the foot of the east staircase on the House side of the Capitol (opposite a Hiram Powers statue of Benjamin Franklin at the foot of the east staircase in the Senate wing). The likenesses of both Jefferson and Franklin were commissioned by President James Buchanan in 1859, and Powers was paid $10,000 for each. The statue of Franklin was installed in 1862 and Jefferson in 1863.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Late in his career, Powers focused on sculptures capturing ideals like “Hope” or “Charity” more than portrait busts, but he made an exception for the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The chiseled base of the bust (left) is styled after classical Greek herms.
Hiram Powers died, in Florence, two days before his 68th birthday. As was tradition at the time, friends and fellow sculptors Thomas Ball and Joel Tanner Hart molded a mask directly from Powers’s face. The Death Mask of Hiram Powers can be found on the third floor of the Luce Foundation Center.
April 12, 2010
Years ago, I learned that visiting art museums would not be an experience I could share (enjoyably) with one of my younger brothers.
To put it simply, he has the attention span of a goldfish. Even today, at age 21, he can fly through an entire floor of artwork in 10 minutes and be back to ask if its time to go get something to eat, before I’ve even finished looking at the first gallery of paintings.
But it turns out my brother isn’t the only one racing through galleries. The average person takes, on average, less than eight seconds to examine a work of art.
In an effort to get people to slow down and take a real, long look at art, museums around the world are teaming up for Slow Art Day 2010, which aims to help museum-goers to breakout of their speedy habits.
At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, join in on the fun from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 17. With a list of suggested viewing pieces, visitors are encouraged to take five to 10 minutes looking at each artwork. Afterward, they’ll meet at 1:15 p.m. in the Luce Foundation Center for a discussion about what they saw.
The event is free, but visitors should register at this site ahead of time.
Who knows—maybe you’ll find that by slowing down, your experience will be more enjoyable.
(And yes, I’ve passed the link along to my brother.)
April 6, 2010
Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have made a name for themselves by staging massive, temporary art projects. You may be familiar with their project, The Gates—7,503 panels of orange fabric that hung, for 16 days in February 2005, in a winding path in New York City’s Central Park.
Or perhaps you have seen pictures of Berlin’s Reichstag, wrapped up like a present in silver fabric. After 24 years of planning and with the help of 90 professional climbers and 120 installation workers, the husband-and-wife team successfully pulled off that stunt-like project in June of 1995. The building remained wrapped for 14 days.
But one of their earliest, most memorable constructions was Running Fence—a 24.5-mile long, 18-foot high white, billowy barrier that stretched along the coast of Northern California for 14 days in September 1976. The structure took four years of planning, 240,000 square yards of nylon fabric (recycled material from castaway car air bags) and 360 able-bodied workers, some of whom were local farmers, to pull off.
Clearly, with such fleeting existences, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works are all about the process. Fortunately for the Smithsonian, the American Art Museum has in its collection the definitive archive of the making of the Running Fence.
The newly-opened exhibition “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence” tells the story of the fence through components from the actual project (you can touch a piece of the original fence!), nearly 50 original preparatory drawings and collages, a 58-foot long scale model and more than 240 photographs.
We suggest coordinating your visit with one of these related events:
Running Fence Gallery Talk – Tuesday, April 13, 5:30 p.m.
Deputy Chief Curator George Gurney leads a tour. Meet in exhibition entrance, third floor.
Conservation of the Running Fence Archive, Gallery Talk – Thursday, April 29, 5:30 p.m.
Conservators Helen Ingalls and Kate Maynor explain the conservation challenges that come along with the fence’s fabric and the artists’ sketches.
To the German People: Wrapped Reichstag 1971-1995 – Wednesday, May 12, 6 p.m.
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United States Klaus Scharioth introduces a showing of To the German People: Wrapped Reichstag 1971-1995, a film about the Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Reichstag project. Christo and filmmaker Wolfram Hissen will lead a discussion after the screening. Free tickets available in G Street Lobby, one hour prior. McEvoy Auditorium, Lower Level.