February 7, 2012
Our inquisitive readers are rising to the challenge we gave them last month. The questions are pouring in and we’re ready for more. Do you have any questions for our curators? Submit your questions here.
How much is the Hope Diamond worth? — Marjorie Mathews, Silver Spring, Maryland
That’s the most popular question we get, but we don’t really satisfy people by giving them a number. There are a number of answers, but the best one is that we honestly don’t know. It’s a little bit like Liz Taylor’s jewels being sold in December—all kinds of people guessed at what they would sell for, but everybody I know was way off. Only when those pieces were opened up to bidding at a public auction could you find out what their values were. When they were sold, then at least for that day and that night you could say, well, they were worth that much. The Hope Diamond is kind of the same way, but more so. There’s simply nothing else like it. So how do you put a value on the history, on the fact it’s been here on display for over 50 years and a few hundred million people have seen it, and on that fact it’s a rare blue diamond on top of everything else? You don’t. – Jeffrey E. Post, mineralogist, National Museum of Natural History
What’s the worst impact of ocean acidification so far?- Nancy Schaefer, Virginia Beach, Virginia
The impacts of ocean acidification are really just starting to be felt, but two big reports that came out in 2011 show that it could have very serious effects on coral reefs. These studies did not measure the warming effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but rather its effect of making the ocean more acidic when it dissolves in the ocean. Places where large amounts of carbon dioxide seep into the water from the sea floor provide a natural experiment and show us how ocean waters might look, say, 50 or 100 years from now. Both studies showed branching, lacy, delicate coral forms are likely to disappear, and with them that kind of three-dimensional complexity so many species depend on. Also, other species that build a stony skeleton or shell, such as oysters or mussels, are likely to be affected. This happens because acidification makes carbonate ions, which these species need for their skeletons, less abundant.
Nancy Knowlton, marine biologist
National Museum of Natural History
Art and artifacts from ancient South Pacific and Pacific Northwest tribes have similarities in form and function. Is it possible that early Hawaiians caught part of the Kuroshio Current of the North Pacific Gyre to end up along the northwest coast of America from northern California to Alaska? — April Amy Croan, Maple Valley, Washington
Those similarities have given rise to various theories, including trans-Pacific navigation, independent drifts of floating artifacts, inadvertent crossings by ships that have lost their rudders or rigging, or whales harpooned in one area that died or were captured in a distant place. Some connections are well-known, like feather garment fragments found in an archaeological site in Southeast Alaska that appear to have been brought there by whaling ships that had stopped in the Hawaiian Islands, a regular route for 19th-century whalers. Before the period of European contact, the greatest similarities are with the southwest Pacific, not Hawaii. The Kushiro current would have facilitated Asian coastal contacts with northwestern North America, but would not have helped Hawaiians. The problem of identification is one of context, form and dating. Most of the reported similarities are either out of their original context (which can’t be reconstructed), or their form is not specific enough to relate to another area’s style, or the date of creation cannot be established. To date there is no acceptable proof for South Pacific-Northwest Coast historical connections that predates the European whaling era, except for links that follow the coastal region of the North Pacific into Alaska.
William Fitzhugh, archeologist
Natural History Museum
February 1, 2012
We know you’ve got enough “looking forward to 2012″ lists under your belt by now; our Who to Follow post alone will keep you pretty busy. But we can’t resist sneaking in just one more. Here’s our guide to the exhibitions we’re most excited for this year. Mark your calendars now so you’ll have no excuse to say you’re bored later.
A new look at Monticello: Founding father Thomas Jefferson called slavery an “abominable crime”. . . but owned more than 600 slaves who sustained his plantation, Monticello. “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty,” opened on January 27 in the American History Museum‘s National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery, and focuses on the long-overlooked history of slave life at the third president’s Virginia home. Be sure to keep up with the latest news from Monticello on Twitter at @TJMonticello.
Happy birthday, Jackson Pollock: If he were alive today, Jackson Pollock would have turned 100 on January 28. To honor the stormy life and revolutionary work of the modern art icon, the Archives of American Art presents Pollock’s personal family photos, letters, and writings in “Art Memories Arrested in Space, a centennial tribute to Jackson Pollock” at the Reynolds Center through May 15.
Game on: Can video games be art? To answer that question, the American Art Museum‘s upcoming exhibit, “The Art of Video Games,” pulls together the most arresting graphics and innovative designs in the gaming world, on view March 16 through September 30. Even if you forgot to vote for your favorite game, don’t miss out on GameFest, which kicks off the exhibit with three days packed with open play, panel talks with artists and designers, and live-action gaming. To tide you over til March, follow curator Chris Melissinos at @CMelissinos for updates and teasers.
Hokusai: In anticipation of the Cherry Blossom Centennial, the Sackler Gallery presents a study of Katsushika Hosukai, Japan’s most famous artist (yes, that’s his Great Wave that has probably graced every college dorm wall in America). “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,” his most acclaimed woodblock print series, was first published in 1830 when Hokusai was in his 70s and goes on view on March 24 through June 17. The gallery has set up an interactive website with more information on Hokusai’s life and artistic technique.
Ai Weiwei: The controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, arrested last year, brings a new installation, “Fragments,” to the Sackler Gallery beginning May 12. Using antique wood salvaged from Qing Dynasty temples, Ai worked with skilled traditional carpenters to create what he calls an “irrational structure” that both affirms and defies centuries of architectural traditions. In October, the Hirshhorn gets in on the action with an exhibit of 25 of Ai’s recent works entitled “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” For an English translation of Ai’s Twitter, follow @aiwwenglish.
August 26, 2011
If flamingos were able to watch the new Hirshhorn “Black Box: Nira Pereg” presentation of the looped video 67 Bows (2006), no doubt they’d warn each other about Israeli digital artist Nira Pereg. In her video, she explores herd response theory when she appears to disrupt the serenity of a German zoo’s flamingo community with the repeated cocking and firing of a gun.
But all is not what it seems.
67 Bows was filmed during a snowstorm over Christmas in a nearly empty Karlsruhe Zoo. Though Pereg had initially desired to shoot a portrait of a flamingo, her project expanded into a study of group behavior utilizing the indoor colony of social birds.
“While visiting and studying the flamingo exhibit, [she] realized when visitors put their hands up, if one bird ducked, they all started to,” explained Hirshhorn curator Kelly Gordon. “This behavior inspired how this work was filmed and “scored.”” After shooting video of the flamingos being flamingos, making flamingo sounds, and then nodding and ducking in unison, the “score” was added.
The “score” in this case, being the repeated threatening sounds of a gun being cocked and then fired that break the silence and appear to shock the pink feathered video stars. Pereg synched her “score” with the pre-existing ducking “choreography” of the flamingos, making it appear as if they were reacting to the gunshots.
The timing of the gun soundtrack provides the illusion that the flamingos are actually responding to the sounds–and doing so in a Pavlovian manner. Initially, they only appear to duck when a shot is fired; however, eventually they cower at the sound of the cocking of the weapon and don’t even wait for the sound of the blast. The sight of flamingos bobbing their heads in unison almost in rhythm with the gun blasts is almost hypnotic. View a clip of the piece here.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1969, Pereg was raised in an environment where the threat of terrorism loomed daily. So was this piece designed to see if a potential threat affects individuals in a community the same way? “I was trying to make them [the flamingos] do a certain move in order to see the ones who don’t move,” Pereg said in a July 2010 Artis Video Series interview. “So 67 Bows is a lot about the ones who don’t bow.”
August 22, 2011
Monday, August 22 Addy’s World
Ever wonder what life was like for young African American girls during the Civil War? Addy Walker, of the popular American Girl doll series and heroine of the book, Meet Addy, is a nine-year old that was born into slavery who escapes to freedom during the Civil War. Trace the events in the story’s narrative using the museum’s downloadable guide, or pick one up free at the information desk. Claim a free gift at the gift shop when you have your guide stamped at each stop on the self-guided tour. Free. Continues through end of August. American History Museum.
Tuesday, August 23 Draw & Discover
Break out of your Tuesday routine by visiting the American Art Museum‘s Luce Foundation Center for American Art. Make your way to the 3rd floor of the West Wing of the museum at 3 p.m. to join a discussion about some of the works that line the walls of the museum. Then put your own spin on the masterpieces as you spend time sketching a few of your favorites. There are more than 3,300 artworks on display in the Luce Foundation Center so branch out and find a new favorite. Bring a small sketchbook and some pencils and enjoy the artwork as you spend an afternoon in the Luce. Free. 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.. American Art Museum
Wednesday, August 24 Civil Rights in America
Hear a renowned author talk about her work and have your copy of the author’s book signed at the National Portrait Gallery. Paula Young Shelton grew up among a host of civil rights activists, including her father Andrew Young and family friend Martin Luther King Jr. Her book, Child of the Civil Rights Movement, is an inspiring look at her childhood in the heavily segregated Deep South and her family’s struggle for civil rights, culminating in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Free. Noon to 1 p.m. National Portrait Gallery.
Thursday, August 25 Fragments in Time and Space
This Thursday evening, join Michael Fried, professor and author of Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before for a tour of the Hirshhorn’s summer exhibition, “Fragments in Time and Space.” Get an expert’s take on works by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Douglas Gordon, and Tacita Dean while you still have the chance, as the exhibition will close on Sunday. The walk-through begins at 7 p.m. and lasts for about an hour. Free. Hirshhorn Gallery
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions, visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
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