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.
August 19, 2010
On the first floor of the National Portrait Gallery, a new exhibit examines who we are as a nation in the 21st century. Americans Now notes the notable people who are making an impact on our cultural landscape—be it in the form of entertainment, sports, the arts or business—and accentuates American creativity and achievement. But the show is not only about the personalities, but about the changing face of portraiture and how artists are pushing the boundaries of this age-old genre.
One of the more traditional offerings on the walls is a photograph (left) of domestic diva Martha Stewart shortly after her much-publicized turn in the Alderson Federal Prison Camp (more affectionately known as “Camp Cupcake). She’s one of those hot-button personalities that generates a lot of strong emotions—both wildly positive and negative. But no matter your opinion of the person, it is impossible to deny that she is one of the most successful businesspeople of our time. When the photograph was taken, there was much speculation over whether or not Stewart would return to her former prominence.
“The ever-resilient Martha Stewart proved them wrong,” said curator Ann Shumard during a press preview of the show. But reading the whole image isn’t as simple as capturing a moment of triumph. Martha was primed and ready to poke fun at the publicity surrounding her trial. Schumard drew the crowd’s attention to a brown leather bag innocently sitting on a countertop in the background of the image. It’s the infamous Hermes Birkin Bag—whose price tag makes it an item available only to the fabulously rich. When Stewart—known for her typically budget friendly projects and K-Mart product lines—walked into the courtroom to face allegations of insider trading armed with this symbol of extreme luxury, causing a bit of a scandal. ”And here she is,” Shumard ays, “out of prison, looking to re-establish her public image. And there she is. Martha and the bag.”
Other pieces not only capture famous personalities but expand the boundaries of how we consider portraiture. Case in point is a video installation by Lincoln Schatz, where video recordings of human behavior act as the portrait—such as LeBron James playing a basketball video game or Craig Venter, the biologist known for mapping the human genome, mapping out a sailing trip.
Then there are artists like Chuck Close, who has been toying with our notions of portraiture since the 1960s. He is perhaps best known for his large-scale portraits composed of splotchy “pixels” of paint. He puts a fun twist on the genre once again with the anamorphic self-portrait on display. A hodgepodge of Close’s characteristic splotches lay flat on a wood base, arranged around an upright, stainless steel cylinder.
At first glance, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. But as I started moving around the piece, I finally noticed the reflection in the cylinder: through optical illusion, the reflection smooshed and morphed the splotches to create a perfectly recognizable self-portrait of the artist. As curator Wendy Reaves pointed out, “It’s a way of challenging the authority of the frontal gaze.”
I know, it’s all a little hard to visualize and sadly, I don’t have the rights to post that particular artwork here. But the same piece was covered in Princeton University’s arts blog and can be seen here. I do, however, recommend you come out to the Portrait Gallery and see it in person. The experience of this piece of art is a lot of fun.
Americans Now is on view until June 19, 2011. You can see a selection of the pieces on display in the online version of the show here.