December 7, 2011
In 1964, when Andy Warhol first screened his film Empire, the reaction was decidedly negative. “The first theatrical screening at Jonas Mekas’ American Cinematheque, according to Mekas, caused a near riot,” says Kelly Gordon, a curator at the Hirshhorn Museum. “People became restless, then agitated, and finally many stormed the box office for a refund.”
When you first sit down to watch Empire at the Hirshhorn’s new exhibition, “Empire3,” you might be inclined to agree with the angry crowds. Warhol’s work is a nearly static image of the Empire State Building, filmed over the course of more than six hours on a night in July of 1964. In the sense of a conventional film, absolutely nothing happens. The sun slowly sets, and some of the building’s lights flicker on and off. For the entire 46-minute excerpt shown at the Hirshhorn, that’s it.
But as you settle in, and your mind starts to play with the image. Set to the humming of the projector and the wandering of your thoughts, the picture is slowly transformed. The illuminated top of the building becomes a lighted crown, and then a candle’s flame. You close your eyes, and you see a faint ghost image of the building on the backs of your eyelids. In the darkened room, the flicker of the film brings to mind Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” And when you emerge out into the bright gallery, you’re uncertain what to think of it all: is it a serious work of art, or an elaborate joke?
For Warhol, all this is no accident. “Warhol’s early movies were experiments in which the camera is utilized to record the beauty of a found subject, like a suspended stare,” Gordon says. “He commented that this allowed viewers to get to know themselves better.”
Warhol believed that this unconventional use of film was essential in curbing the rapid pace of life for viewers in the increasingly hectic world of the 1960s. ”It’s not for everyone, but it is a landmark use of media to slow one down from the barrage and dynamic of the media-ized world, which has grown exponentially more frantic since this was made,” says Gordon. “Even those who aren’t captivated by this often rest here longer than they do before, say, a Rothko.”
The Hirshhorn’s new exhibition pairs Empire with a pair of related works to explore the ways in which the media environment—and the expectations of viewers—have changed since the film’s creation. Outside the gallery, on a small TV monitor, Bootleg (Empire), by Douglas Gordon, is shown.
“Warhol’s work was a legend, but difficult to get to see,” Kelly Gordon explains. “When [Douglas] Gordon found out it was showing in Berlin, he brought a crummy hand-held video camera to tape it on the sly.” Douglas Gordon’s work, a shaky, two-hour bootleg of the original, seems to play on many of the same concepts prevalent throughout Warhol’s career. “His work brings to mind all the issues of appropriation in art—what is inspiration, versus simply theft?” Kelly Gordon asks.
The most recent work in the Gallery is Wolfgang Staehle’s Empire 24/7. Like Douglas Gordon’s film, it’s a comment on Warhol’s original, but was created through an entirely different method. Staehle set up a digital webcam that took photos of the Empire State Building every six seconds and streamed it on the Internet for four years straight. “He has said that it responds to what has happened in the world since Warhol’s work was created,” says Kelly Gordon. “Namely, that digital means provide access to consumerism that continues 24/7.” At the Hirshhorn, a segment of the film is shown, calibrated to match the real-time hour of the day outside.
The exhibition is the very first time the works have been on display together, and Gordon hopes that the chance to see them in the same place will give visitors a new take on the original piece. ”The work is about the cumulative experience, and how long it takes to rinse your mind of other things—or if, in fact, you actually can,” she says.
Empire3 is on display at the Hirshhorn Museum through February 26, 2012
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.
November 14, 2011
Monday, November 14 Tell Jemmeh: Ancient Cultures on the Negev
Noted Israeli archaeologist David Ben-Shlomo presents the findings of the Natural History Museum‘s archeological dig in the Negev Desert. The ancient settlement of Tell Jemmeh, located on the historical border between Canaan and Egypt, has yielded treasures such as a late Bronze Age building complex and a vaulted building from the Assyrian period. Shlomo will discuss the progress of the ongoing excavation. Tickets are $30 for Residents Associates members, $27 for senior members, and $40 for the general public. 6:45 to 8:30 p.m. Ripley Center
Tuesday, November 15 The Man Who Sailed Away
Come see Steve Johnson, a Native from Alaska’s Tlingit community, use imagery, drum and voice to tell a traditional story from his ancient culture. Tlingit legend holds that Kaaxachgook and two of his friends were once swept away by fierce winds to the waters of Polynesia, and landed on an island that may have been Hawaii. Bring the whole family for this engaging window into Tlingit culture. Tickets are $5 for Residents Associates members, $6 for children, and $8 for the general public. 10:15 a.m. American Indian Museum, Rasmuson Theater.
Wednesday, November 16 Multiplicity
DC-area print makers Linn Meyers, Michael Platt, Lou Stovall and Andrea Way are all featured in “Multiplicity,” a new exhibition of contemporary art. Join a panel discussion featuring these artists and moderated by senior curator Joann Moser to learn about their printmaking techniques and the influence on Washington’s art scene on their work. Free. 6 to 7 p.m. American Art Museum, McEvoy Auditorium.
Thursday, November 17 National Geography Awareness Week
Participate in National Geography Awareness Week to sharpen your own knowledge and promote geographic literacy in others. The Air and Space Museum celebrates with its annual “Geography From Space” competition, where participants are challenged to identify photos taken from satellites and the space shuttle. Take the test in person, or take the online version from Wednesday, November 16 through Friday, November 18. The winner will receive a copy of the museum’s fascinating book “Earth from Space.” In-person test will be held 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Air and Space Museum, “Looking at Earth” exhibition.
August 2, 2011
With temperatures in the hundreds here in Washington, D.C., August is a fine time to seek out the glorious air conditioning of a museum. If you’re in town, take a moment to catch some of these great exhibits while you still can. The Around the Mall team alerts you to the upcoming final days of the following exhibitions. Hurry In.
Closing Sunday, August 7:
By the 1870s, Chinese blue and white porcelain had moved “from palace to parlor,” as one historian put it. The commodity, highly sought after by the Victorian middle classes, was a symbol of high culture and refined taste. Satirically labeled “Chinamania” by media of the time, the china craze was powered in large part the London-based American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), who became infatuated with blue and white Chinese porcelain in the early 1860s. Whistler’s work from this period is the subject of the Freer Gallery’s new exhibit “Chinamania,” which opened last summer and closes this Sunday. Don’t miss the collection of Whistler ink drawings and paintings inspired by Chinese porcelain.
At times provocative and at times moving, these works run the gamut from a blanket sewn out of thrift store fabrics to a photographic spoof of a Frida Kahlo self-portrait to a video installation projected on a screen of white turkey feathers. the museum’s acquisitions during the past several years. When the National Museum of the American Indian opened its doors on the National Mall in 2004, the museum had already begun to amass a rich collection of contemporary art by Native Americans. The museum’s exhibit, “Vantage Point,” a survey of 25 contemporary artists, opened last September and also closes this Sunday.
Closing Sunday, August 14:
You never knew Alexander Calder (1898-1976) in this way. The acclaimed painter and sculptor is best known for his avant-garde mobiles and stabiles and his colorful, geometric sculptures. Few of which are in this show. Instead, introduce yourself to an often overlooked side of Alexander Calder —that of the prolific portraitist. In March, the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition of Calder’s drawings, sculptures and caricatures of celebrities like Josephine Baker, Jimmy Durante, Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh surprised and delighted visitors. You have less than two weeks to see it all; the show closes on Sunday, August 14.
Closing Sunday August 28:
“Fragments in Time and Space” at Hirshhorn
In a blink of the eye, this show is over before it can even get started. The Hirshhorn’s summer exhibition, on view for just two months, is a terrific presentation of works from the museum’s permanent collection. Thematically the curators have chosen pieces that focus on the interpretation of time and space since the beginning of modernism. Included are works from such artists as Thomas Eakins, Hamish Fulton, Douglas Gordon, Ed Ruscha and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Sunday, August 28, is the last day to see it.
*Image credits: 1) “Arthur Miller 1915-2005″ by Calder, @2010 Calder Foundation, NY/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY; 2) “Blanket” by James Lavadour (Walla Walla), Museum purchase with funds donated by Robert Jon Grover, 2007; 3) Incense burner, late 17th century, Qing dynasty; 4) “Five Past Eleven” by Ed Ruscha, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
December 16, 2010
Yesterday, the American Art Museum announced that French artist Pierre Huyghe is this year’s winner of the museum’s biennial Contemporary Artist Award. The $25,000 prize is awarded to a contemporary artist under the age of 50 who has already amassed a significant oeuvre and demonstrates great creativity and vision.
“Pierre Huyghe represents the commitment to creative innovation that this award seeks to recognize,” said the director of the museum Elizabeth Broun in a report. “Huyghe’s pioneering use of appropriated imagery and filmic reenactment reveal the power of mass media to shape our memory of personal and historical events.”
Huyghe is best known as a media artist who uses video and light installation to explore the boundary between fiction and reality in today’s society. One video work, “The Journey That Wasn’t,” showed footage from Huyghe’s search for an albino penguin in Antarctica. Of the work, Huyghe told PBS, “It’s called that because the journey happened… or did not. It was also kind of a mental journey, and maybe that’s the one I’m most interested in. The film is literally a process, a process of finding an idea and bringing it to light… We just invent fiction and we give ourselves the real means to discover it.”
“The Host and the Cloud,” pictured above, is a film shot at a closed museum on Halloween, Valentines Day and May Day. Characters such as the Grim Reaper and ET make random cameos as the video explores the relationship between their images and popular media.
One notable installation by Huyghe shown at the Tate Modern museum in London is a series of words in white light lettering that complete the phrase, “I don’t own” with “Tate Modern or the Death Star,” “Snow White,” or “Modern Times.” The words are punctuated by white doors in the middle of a white room. PBS’ Art 21 Web site has slideshows and more information on Huyghe’s work.
Huyghe was born in Paris in 1962 and attended the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. His work has been shown around the world, with notable solo exhibitions at London’s Tate Modern in 2006, the Carpenter Center at Harvard University in 2004, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 2003, as well as the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, to name a few. He has won several awards, including a special award from the Venice Biennale jury in 2001. The artist is the ninth winner of the Contemporary Artist Award, formerly known as the Lucelia Artist Award, and was chosen from 15 other nominees by a panel of five judges from various museums and art institutions.
“I am thrilled that the jury has selected such an innovative and influential individual to receive the museum’s artist award,” said Joanna Marsh, curator of contemporary art at the museum. “Pierre Huyghe’s work expands traditional expectations of what art can be.”