April 18, 2013
How is a sculpture of neon-colored Easter baskets similar to a Picasso collage? That question is at the heart of the Hirshhorn’s new exhibit, “Over, Under, Next: Experiments in Mixed Media, 1913-Present,” which brings together roughly 100 works of mixed media from the 20th century. Starting with the early experiments of George Braques in 1913, the exhibit shows the wide range of applications, from playful to nostalgic, political to personal.
Drawing on mass-produced media and objects allows artists to comment on common cultural touchstones. Every movement from Cubism to Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, utilized “non-art” materials. Though found objects sometimes appear in artworks predating modernism, the exhibit points to the 20th-century concept of collage or assemblage as a new moment in art, one whose influence is still felt 100 years later.
“Over, Under, Next: Experiments in Mixed Media, 1913-Present” runs April 18 through Sept. 8, 2013, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
March 22, 2013
Every three years, a set of fresh faces enters the halls of the National Portrait Gallery. This year, 48 faces made it. One was covered in glitter, another composed of rice, but all offered a “fresh and provocative way of looking and thinking about portraiture,” according to the museum’s interim director Wendy Wick Reaves. The national Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition brought more than 3,000 submissions, of which Reaves and a panel of six other jurors selected seven short-listed artists, including the grand-prize winner Bo Gehring of Beacon, New York. His Jessica Wickham pairs a video portrait of a woman with her favorite piece of music, Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten” to record her emotional response as she listens to it once more.
Check out a slideshow with all the winners here.
“Unlike other Portrait Gallery shows,” says Dorothy Moss, director of the 2013 competition, “this exhibition is really about the artist.” Indeed, each work is accompanied by a brief statement from the artist and the exhibit’s accompanying app includes in depth written materials from them as well. Moss says the pieces were chosen not just for their mastery of a medium, but also “because they convey the resiliency of the human spirit.” From a group portrait of an artist’s cousins in Kansas who have fallen on hard times to a drag queen from the Dirty South projected as video against glitter, the works all depict people working through a certain confusion of existence, according to Moss.
Some of the works navigate the confusion in deft and intriguing ways, like Gehring’s video installation, whose slow pan of a woman lying on the floor transforms a body into a landscape and sonic experience all at once. By the time the camera, which hovers just above the subject, moves from her orange Crocs to her hands resting on her rising and falling faded jacket and finally meets her eyes, viewers share her gaze for a split second before she looks away. Gehring told Reaves that when she turned away, he wept.
Others deal much more directly with metaphor or history, referencing the practice of portraiture throughout time.
It’s a collection of subjects as diverse as the approaches of each artist to portraiture.
First prize includes an award of $25,000 and a commission from the museum to be included in the permanent collection. Jennifer Levonian’s digital video animation Buffalo Milk Yogurt won second place, while third prize went to Sequoyah Aono for his self-portrait sculpture carved in wood. Commended artists include Paul D’AMato, Martha Mayer Erlebacher, Heidi Fancher and Beverly McIver. Each received a cash prize.
The jurors included Reaves, Moss, chief curator Brandon Fortune, critic Peter Frank, artist Hung Liu, art historian Richard Powell and photographer Alec Soth.
The winners of the competition will be on display March 23, 2013 through February 23, 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery.
December 31, 2012
Tuesday, January 1: Triple Feature From the Arctic
Now that you’ve rung in another new year, you may be in the mood to broaden your horizons. But no need to take the 13-hour flight to your bucket list destination just yet. Just stop by the American Indian Museum for a screening of three films from Arctic cultures. Two films by Tara Young Handmade Portraits: Mabel Pike and Handmade Portraits: The Bone Carver provide snapshot portraits of community members keeping traditions alive, from foraging to beading to carving. The third, a film by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Iqaluit), looks deeply at a dying tradition. Tunniit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos chronicles the history of face tattoos and their now-forbidden place within Inuit culture. Free. 3:30 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Wednesday, January 2: Hirshhorn Spotlight Tours
Maybe one of your resolutions for the new year was to get a little more artsy but you don’t exactly look smashing in a beret. Try a docent-led tour of the Hirshhorn highlights instead. The contemporary art museum, currently showing a blockbuster exhibition of Ai Weiwei’s work, has pieces from greats like Andy Warhol and Henri Matisse. Monday through Friday, the docents are on hand for four hours at the information desk for casual questions or a 30-minute tour through the museum. Free. 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Hirshhorn Museum.
Thursday, January 3: Sit ‘n’ Stitch
Or maybe one of your goals was to start a successful online business from your crafty inclinations. Well then, join local Etsy sellers Julia Longueville and Brian Leenig for a little stitching and a little conversation about the Etsy life. Beginners and pros alike are welcome to gather at the Renwick Gallery, whose exhibit “40 under 40: Craft Futures” is on view, featuring the best of crafted works from young artists. Who knows, maybe you’ll make the next 40 under 40 list. Free. 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Renwick Gallery.
And if you happen to have a herd of family members curious to explore all the Smithsonian has to offer, just download 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.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
November 26, 2012
Tuesday, November 27: Johnny Mercer: He Wrote the Songs
Whether or not you know the name, you know the work. Johnny Mercer, lyricist, composer and co-founder of Capitol Records, left an indelible mark on the music industry. He wrote hundreds of songs, including the lyrics for “Moon River” for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and won four Academy Awards. Robert Wyatt will discuss the work and legacy of Mercer, who was also a singer in addition to all his other roles. Learn more about the man who penned some of the most popular songs of the 1930s, 40s and 50s for both stage and silver screen. Tickets $30 members, $42 non-members. 6:45 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Wednesday, November 28: Making History: Contemporary Art and the Middle East
Former Freer and Sackler curator of Islamic art, Glenn Lowry returns home from his current post as director of the Museum of Modern Art, to lead a discussion on contemporary art and the Middle East. Using the works of several artists, Lowry details how their work weaves real and imagined histories of the region together. Included in the discussion will be Walid Raad, Michael Blum, Emily Jacir and Shadi Ghadirian. Many of the artists address issues like civil war, exile, occupation and the construction of personal and national identities, topics that continue to be relevant in the modern Middle East. Free. 7:00 p.m. Freer Gallery.
Thursday, November 29: Craft Futures: Handi-hour
Remember how you took up knitting three weeks before the holidays last year and you still have that unfinished hat or scarf somewhere in the bottom of a tote bag? Well, this year is going to be different. Head to the regular and much-loved handi-hour at the Renwick to kick start your month of crafting and prepare to give the most awesome, etsy-est presents of your life. This session will focus on hoop-art ornaments and embroidery with live music from the Michelle Raymond Band and craft beer to keep things festive. Now you can finally embroider your own Kanye tweets! $20 at the door. 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Renwick Gallery.
For more events, check here and don’t forget to download our Visitors Guide and Tours app. We’ve packed it with specialty tours, must-see exhibitions, museum floor plans and custom postcards. Get it on Google Play and in the Apple Store for just 99 cents.
October 3, 2012
“Ai Weiwei is taking over the Smithsonian,” joked the Hirshhorn’s chief curator Kerry Brougher about the Chinese artist’s new exhibition at the museum. With an installation outside the museum, a piece at the Sackler Gallery and now a sprawling, multi-level show at the Hirshhorn, Ai Weiwei has accomplished a lot for an artist forbidden to travel from his home country.
Considering it took 38 tons of steel rebar, 3,200 porcelain crabs and millions of crystals, as well as a Department of State liaison to get Ai Weiwei’s “According to What?” installed throughout three floors of the museum, visitors could be forgiven for having the impression that the artist is, in fact, taking over. The artist’s absence and his own powerlessness against the Chinese state stands in high contrast to the power he commands across the Western art world. And this, his newest show, building off of a 2009 exhibit at Japan’s Mori Art Museum, continues to challenge notions of cultural and political power in Ai’s signature style.
A mix of photography, video and sculpture welcomes visitors into the world of an internationally famous but severely restricted artist. When the museum began planning with the Mori Art Museum to bring this show to the States for the first time, says Brougher, Ai was still just an emerging artist. “At that time, we had no idea what was going to follow.”
The Sichuan Earthquake had occurred in May, 2008. That December, Ai joined another artist’s investigation into the devastation, including compiling a list of all the students killed, largely due to poor construction. Ai continued to travel around the world until tensions with the Chinese state rose to a boiling point in 2011: Ai’s just-completed studio in Shanghai was abruptly demolished in a single day in January. Then came Ai’s mysterious arrest in April. He was held for 81 days without being charged. Though he was eventually released, he is still unable to leave China.
None of this has stopped the artist from producing new work for new audiences or collaborating with both the Mori Art Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum. Though Ai spent formative years in New York City, viewing the work of famous artists including Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns (whose 1971 painting “According to What” lent the new show its title) and his work has been shown there before, curators say the decision to bring the exhibit to Washington, D.C. was intentional. Director of the Hirshhorn, Richard Koshalek says, “It’s very important for him that this exhibition is in Washington, D.C. It’s not in New York. It’s not in L.A. It’s not in Chicago.” Speaking to Ai’s role as an activist and agitator, Koshalek says D.C. offers an international community, an audience of diplomats and a city concerned with freedom of expression, not just in China, but all over the world.
The decision seems significant for Ai’s career, as well. Though his inspiration in New York City, Marcel Duchamp, delighted in upsetting the art institution by presenting urinals and bicycle wheels atop a stool, his work did not put him at odds with a government. When Ai crafts a multi-limbed sculpture of wooden stools and declares, “I make the useful become not useful,” there is more at work than a flippant aesthetic challenge. His work will always be read as a middle finger (sometimes it literally is) to the Chinese state.
The New York Times said it best when it wrote, “So much attention has been paid to Ai Weiwei the Chinese rebel that it seems to have eclipsed Ai Weiwei the artist.”
His famous series Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (above) begun in 1995 is no longer just a comment on the essentialization of Chinese culture as a static, ancient form. Instead, dropping a vase here is the same as throwing down the gauntlet, challenging the elaborate staging of Chinese history and culture, according to the Communist Party.
Newer work supports this interpretation, as well. More than 3,000 porcelain crabs titled “He Xie,” confuse the term for river crabs for the word “harmonious,” from the Communist Party’s slogan, “the realization of a harmonious society.” The term is now used online as slang to refer to China’s rampant censorship.
In his artist statement, Ai writes, “I have lived with political struggle since birth. As a poet, my father tried to act as an individual, but he was treated as an enemy of the state.” Reflecting on his own recent clashes with the state, he continues, “Going through these events allowed me to rethink my art and the activities necessary for an artist. I re-evaluated different forms of expression and how considerations of aesthetics should relate to morality and philosophy.”
Art and politics, aesthetics and ethics can never truly be separated, but with this new show, Ai says they are one in the same. And he says it without hesitation.
Snake Ceiling commemorates the more than 5,000 students killed in the Sichuan earthquake with a giant snake constructed from gray and green backpacks. At once literal and fantastical, the work is an efficient indictment of a culture and government that failed to protect its students.
Perhaps the most enigmatic work in the whole show, is the sparkling Cube Light with its strands of light-catching crystals.The museum acquired it for its permanent collection. Less overt than some of the other works, the piece is a fitting acquisition to represent a man who resists being defined as simply an artist or an activist.
Ai ends his statement saying, “As an artist, I value other artists’ efforts to challenge the definition of beauty, goodness, and the will of the times. These roles cannot be separated. Maybe I’m just an undercover artist in the disguise of a dissident; I couldn’t care less about the implications.”
“According to What?” opens at the Hirshhorn Museum October 7 and runs through February 24, 2013, before heading to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Miami Art Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.