February 6, 2013
“This day has been a long time coming,” Barack Obama said last February at the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The museum, first proposed by black Civil War veterans, was finally approved a decade ago, and construction is now underway.
Today, the museum’s future site is an enormous fenced hole in the ground at the corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue on the National Mall’s northwest corner. But visitors are already stopping by the new welcome center that opened in an on-site trailer over the holidays in December.
“The Welcome Center ties in with [Museum Director] Lonnie Bunch’s vision that the museum is open before we have a building,” says Esther Washington, Smithsonian’s director of education. This vision hopes to use modern technology to extend the museum’s reach beyond Washington. In 2007, the museum launched a virtual “Museum on the Web,” and over the past five years, it has opened exhibits in the International Center of Photography in New York City and at the American History Museum.
Panels, a plasma screen and a miniature model of the Mall explain how the idea for the museum came to fruition, kiosks quiz visitors on African American culture and an information desk staffed by volunteers provides the latest updates on the museum’s progress. “People interested in African American history, and interested in American history through an African American lens can see the collection, they can see the public programs we’re doing,” says Washington.
But plasma screens and panels have nothing over the center’s most popular attraction—watching the construction. A row of large windows overlooking the big hole is the new must-see in Washington D.C., particularly for kids.
“Visitors can see the real work that we have done so far,” says Washington. And for a city frequently chastised for government gridlock, a place to go to see progress and industry can be a big draw.
The Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian’s 19th museum, opens in 2015. The Welcome Center currently runs on a limited schedule, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
January 14, 2013
Monday, January 14: The Higgs Boson Particle: Why It Matters
The Higgs Boson is a particle so small that it took scientists 50 years to find it. Headlines exploded last year when the so-called “God particle” was detected, but can something so small really be so important? Renowned theoretical astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss spends the evening explaining why without this elusive mini-particle, our entire understanding of physics would unravel. Bring along or pick up a copy of Krauss’s latest book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, if you would like an autograph. $28-$40 (student discounts available), tickets here. 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Natural History Museum.
*BONUS*: Grammy-winning Smithsonian Folkways artists Los Texmaniacs are in town tonight for the first time since the release of their latest album, Texas Towns & Tex-Mex Sounds. The Texan quartet plays jams rooted in conjunto polka music (with instruments like the 12-string banjo sexto and the button accordion), but also draws from classic rock, blues and Chicano dance sounds. Polka the night away! $15, tickets here. 7:30 p.m. The Hamilton.
Tuesday, January 15: See the President up “Close”
Here’s your chance to get up close and personal with Barack Obama. Sure, the president himself is busy preparing for his second inauguration, but a huge portrait of him by famed artist Chuck Close is on display today in the National Portrait Gallery. Stop by to congratulate Mr. President on his reelection or to air your political grievances to him — just be sure not to disturb the other visitors. (Close, by the way, also has captured Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, and was appointed in 2010 to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.) Free. On display until March 2013 on the second floor of the South Rotunda at the National Portrait Gallery.
Wednesday, January 16: Between the Folds
There is a lot more to origami than making cute cranes. The 17th century Japanese art of paper folding is still seriously practiced today by artists who devote their entire lives to learning its intricate and often deeply mathematical techniques. Between the Folds, a documentary, profiles a group of artists and scientists who hope to push the art to its next level. One of the group’s artists, Erik Demaine, will present the film, as well as answer questions and demonstrate folds. Free. Noon. Renwick Gallery.
Thursday, January 17: Peacock Room Shutters Open
Want a taste of luxury? The Freer Gallery’s Peacock Room, once an opulent British dining room, now hosts more than 250 ceramics from Egypt, Iran, Japan, China and Korea that museum founder Charles Lang Freer collected on his travels. At noon, the museum opens the room’s shutters to bathe the collection in sunlight, and the room glows blue, green and gold. The shimmering colors won’t fade any time soon, either; special filtering film on the room’s windows prevents the sun’s effects on the ceramics. Free. Noon to 5:30 p.m. Freer Gallery.
Also check out our specially created Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is also packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
November 18, 2009
Stroll through the main hall of the National Portrait Gallery this winter, and you are likely to see Shephard Fairey’s already iconic “Hope” poster of President Barack Obama, followed by the very simple and powerful depiction of the late senator Ted Kennedy. And then there is the museum’s newest addition to this gallery of America’s who’s-who, a 1971 portrait of opera singer Marilyn Horne. “The painting serves as a biography of Ms. Horne,” says curator of painting and sculpture Brandon Fortune, “and allows us to tell the story of American opera in the twentieth century.”
Marilyn Horne is celebrated as one of the most remarkable voices of the 20th century. Her five-decade career as a vocalist began when she was just four years old when she sang at a rally for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Horne went on to study music at the University of Southern California and launched her professional career in 1954 as the singing voice for Dorothy Dandridge’s in the film Carmen Jones, a modern reworking of the Bizet opera Carmen. Horne later went on to forge a career as an opera singer, tackling roles in Norma, Semiramide and Anna Bolena.
Last Thursday, the 75-year-old mezzo-soprano arrived at the museum to make the donation. The portrait’s portrayal of the young Horne with long, dark, brunette hair, smooth, light skin and sparkling eyes, which Horne described as “in the bloom of my youth,” complemented the opera star’s now graying hair, her full, happy grin and her still sparkling eyes.
The work was created by artist John Foote in 1971 to honor Horne’s debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma. Foote attended Boston University before moving to Florence to study art. The artist was also present at the dedication, and the pair posed for numerous photos for the public, standing beside the creation that brought them both such obvious pride.
NPG’s director Martin Sullivan thanked the legendary team of artist and muse, expressing the honor it was to now have “this historical American gem” a part of the collection. Horne assured him that it was her honor in a genuine sing-song voice. As the dedication ended and the crowd of people, of which Horne described as “her family by choice,” snapped their last photos, Horne looked at her portrait with satisfaction for the last time, her only request before departing was, “please keep me among Obama and Kennedy.”
April 29, 2009
“I Do Solemnly Swear: Photographs of the 2009 Presidential Inauguration.” is a collection of more than 30 images—snapped by both professional and amateur photographers—documents the week leading up to Obama’s historic inauguration, which thanks to the proliferation of digital cameras, is most likely the most-photographed inauguration ever. See some of the photos of the historic event below.
February 10, 2009
So just when we thought our favorite bad boy street artist was settling down a bit, playing nice in support of a political candidate for the first time and going mainstream with his work now in the National Portrait Gallery and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the “Hope” image of President Obama, finds himself in trouble again.
An update: On February 4, the Associated Press claimed that he infringed copyright by cribbing a photograph of Obama taken by AP photographer Mannie Garcia in 2006. Fairey argues that the photo was merely a jumping off point for his piece, and that his work is protected by the Fair Use statute, which condones limited use of copyrighted material to make original art. (My question is if the AP feels this way, what took them so long to file the claim? The image has been plastered everywhere. They’re a little slow to the punch.)
Now, Fairey has sued the AP for the accusation. Oh, and to stoke the fires, the artist was arrested last Friday night in Boston for tagging his images on buildings. He left some 750 in waiting for a lecture he was scheduled to give that night at the ICA.
It’s been a topic of discussion here. I checked in with our photo editor Bonnie Stutski to hear her take on whether Fairey used the AP photo fairly.
“Copyright law has a lot of gray areas, and they can be resolved by negotiations between the parties or by a court case,” she says. “To me, it does seem like he should have gotten some permission from the AP or the photographer.”
She pointed me to an article from a 2004 issue of The Picture Professional, a publication of the American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP), in which Joel Hecker, a respected attorney in photography law, and Jane Kinne ASPP’s legal chair addressed the question of whether an artist’s rendering another’s image in a different medium is grounds for infringement. Hecker said that it is largely up to the lay observer and whether he or she considers the images too similar when compared side to side, and notes that altering say a black and white photo to color isn’t usually enough to deem the latter an original. But what about when the second work is only based on a portion cropped from the original image, as Fairey claims (and bloggers at Photo District News doubt)? Does that present a striking enough difference? There are so many questions. In the article, Kinne warns that “Skirting too close to the line in copyright is dangerous”—something Fairey is learning the hard way.
We here at Smithsonian like to play it safe. For a photo-illustration of Thomas Edison holding an energy-saving light bulb that accompanied Richard Conniff’s story “Let There be Light” in Smithsonian‘s May 2007 issue, for example, Stutski provided the illustrator with two stock images (one of Edison and one of the compact fluorescent lamp, or CFL) to combine, but first got permission and paid the stock agency to use the images as art reference.
We want to hear what you think.