A Joyful Reunion With The National Gallery’s East Building

October 20, 2016

Three years ago, the National Gallery of Art began a major renovation and expansion of its East Building, one of the greatest bastions of contemporary art in the country. Washingtonians […]

‘Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater’ at the Sackler

June 10, 2016

Since the early 20th century, Saudi Arabia has experienced extraordinary political, economic and social transformation. However, the only perspective that most of America has been given for understanding this distant […]

‘Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater’ at the Sackler

June 8, 2016

Since the early 20th century, Saudi Arabia has experienced extraordinary political, economic and social transformation. However, the only perspective that …

“Crisis,” from “Ashab Al-Lal/Fault Mirage,” 2015. Ahmed Mater.

This Friday: Spring Art Walk on Wisconsin Avenue

May 16, 2016

The annual Spring Art Walk has become a seasonal fixture in Georgetown, right in step with the buzzing, foliate bloom of our gardens. As the Book Hill galleries on Wisconsin Avenue open their doors for a night of open houses — filled with paintings and sculptures, music, wine and conversation — the event, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, May 13, becomes a local inauguration of the cultural reawakening that warm weather brings.

Addison/Ripley Fine Art

1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW
“Dan Treado: You Are Getting Sleepy”

The playful merging of science and art, the genuine delight in tools and methods and the shared interest in performance art and experimental music are at the center of Dan Treado’s recent work. He often employs tools of his own design to create luminous, richly surfaced paintings on Baltic birch panels. Treado’s paintings are process works that borrow from film and photography, physics and biology textbooks and electron microscope images.

Susan Calloway Fine Arts

1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW
“Katie Pumphrey: Heavyweight”

In August of last year, Baltimore-based painter Katie Pumphrey swam the English Channel in 14 hours and 19 minutes. For Pumphrey, athletic competition and painting are part and parcel of a single journey. Her works offer insight into our obsession with sports and athletic events, and our war-like and ceremonial glorification of star athletes. They also uncover a harmony in the hulking motion of wildlife and large animals, in rushing herds of buffalo and massive schools of fish, shedding light on our own traditions of highly social and herd-like competition.

Cross MacKenzie Gallery
1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW
“Paintings by Rafael Torres Correa”

In partnership with the Cultural Service of the Embassy of France, Cross MacKenzie Gallery is hosting an exhibition of paintings by the Cuban-born French national Rafael Torres Correa, who creates lyrical universes in his large abstract canvases. His paintings evoke memories — symbolic and emotional—and conjure imagined experiences of water and floating islands with their shifting imagery and fluid execution, using washes, drips, dabs and splashes of paint. These landscapes are transitory territories and shifting metaphors, a state that parallels the artist’s own migrations and cultural identity.

Maurine Littleton Gallery
1667 Wisconsin Ave. NW
“John Littleton & Kate Vogel”

This show of groundbreaking glasswork features the collaborative works of John Littleton and Kate Vogel. Littleton and Vogel met at the University of Wisconsin in the 1970s. Since 1979 they have lived in the mountains of North Carolina, where they began their collaboration on blown and cast glass in the studio of John’s father, Harvey Littleton. Their recent work includes a marvelous, gem-like series of desert flowers and succulents made of cast and hot-worked glass, which in the deft hands of these masters defies the perceived limitations of the medium.

Washington Printmakers Gallery
1641 Wisconsin Ave. NW
“Transitions: Prints by Gabriel Jules and Books from the Eastern Shore”

On view through May 28, “Transitions” showcases the intaglio prints of Gabriel Jules alongside gorgeous artist books of the Salisbury Book Guild and the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Maryland. Jules engages with the intimacy and rhythm of the etching process. Her work, largely representational, explores our ties with the surrounding world. The showcase of artists’ books is uniquely wonderful, presenting viewers with many surprises as they finger through the pages; they are among the few works of art you are allowed to touch (with gloves, of course).

Book Hill Pop-Up Gallery
1666 33rd St. NW
“High Art | Low Art: Works by David Richardson and Ari Post”

David Richardson is a man who has long led two rather contradictory careers, as both a Marine Lt. Col. through multiple tours of combat duty, and as a contemporary painter. Ari Post, who studied painting and illustration, now works for the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries (and writes for The Georgetowner). In this show are recent paintings by both artists, along with other artistic ventures not usually exhibited in galleries. Post has created multiple series of political caricatures, cartoons and ink-work more typical of the Sunday funny pages than a gallery wall — a love letter to newspaper comics and political cartoons. Meanwhile, Richardson, who normally deals with the subject of war through his art using allusion and abstraction, has come out with a series of far more brazen, blunt and politically charged works, influenced by and akin to war propaganda, but infused with a fascinating, mysterious ambiguity and unmistakable painterly bravura.

Artist’s Proof Gallery
1533 Wisconsin Ave. NW
“Color in the Curve: Glass Sculptures by David Patchen”

Glass artist and designer David Patchen uses the Italian techniques of cane and murrine in an American style. Known primarily for a combination of complexity and scale in densely patterned glasses, his organic forms reveal something unexpected and precious. Patchen describes the optical properties of glass as intriguing, as the glass offers a refractive palette with the ability to bend, layer and twist color and light, modulating both density and translucency unlike any other medium. [gallery ids="102225,130468" nav="thumbs"]

Year of the Bard

April 8, 2016

This is William Shakespeare’s year, and April is William Shakespeare’s month.

In April, we celebrate both the Bard’s birth and his death. There is no official birth date for Shakespeare, the world’s most celebrated playwright and writer, but he was baptized April 26, 1564, and he died April 23, 1616, at the age of 52.

All of which makes the Folger Shakespeare Library a great place to be this month. Throughout 2016, the venerable American institution of all things Shakespearean is celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare with exhibitions, performances and other special programming under the umbrella of “The Wonder of Will.”

The whole country will be able to see the touring exhibition “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare.” Copies of the 1623 book — of which the Folger owns 82 of the surviving 233 in the world — will tour all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, landing at 23 museums, 20 universities, five public libraries, three historical societies and a theater. At selected sites, a touring production of “The Gravedigger’s Tale” will also be seen.

At the Folger, on Capitol Hill just past the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, the big birthday party will be Sunday, April 24, with face painting, wandering minstrels, clowns, jugglers, a cake and the presence of Queen Elizabeth (the first, not the second) herself.

The day before, Saturday, April 23, the Folger will host a day of international live streaming, in which actors, scholars, artists and community leaders will share their connections to Shakespeare.

On April 7, the Folger will open “America’s Shakespeare,” which will focus on how Shakespeare has become America’s Bard through letters, costumes, books, photographs and film. It closes July 24, to be followed by “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen and the Cult of Celebrity,” beginning Aug. 6.

On April 8, 9 and 10, the Folger Consort will be performing “Shakespeare and Purcell: Music of The Fairy Queen and Other Works.”

The Folger gala will be Monday, April 18. A few days later, the wacky Reduced Shakespeare Company will return for the world premiere of “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged),” running April 21 to May 8. In May, the Folger will wrap up its theater season with Aaron Posner’s “District Merchants,” a contemporary version of “The Merchant of Venice,” directed by Michael John Garcés.

“We still pay attention to Shakespeare because, no matter how networked our world becomes, he remains one of the ultimate connectors,” said Michael Witmore, director of the Folger. “In a sense, Shakespeare wrote the preamble to modern life.”

Shakespeare remains, is, was and will always be the most contemporary of authors. Directors, adapters and performers try to find ways to contemporize Shakespeare’s plays, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, although — forsooth and in truth — they don’t need it. I may be irritated to hear the word “prithee” time and again in the plays, because it sounds like a forced anachronism, but then again we may yet feel the same way about David Mamet’s four-letter explosions someday.

Some people still doubt that the Bard was the Bard. Personally, I have no doubt that William Shakespeare wrote the plays — for money, for esteem, for profit and prosperity and perhaps for posterity. Someone once said that a man who doesn’t know he’s a genius probably isn’t. I think Shakespeare may have guessed that he was special in his talent but probably didn’t think of himself as a genius. I think he thought of himself as a man of the theater, the modern version of which he practically invented.

The words certainly were the point of it all — the stories he purloined from ready-made sources — but there are musical, operatic, and vaudeville versions of Hamlet (not to mention a wordless one recently at the Washington Ballet).

Shakespeare to this day does what show business does: entertains us and makes us laugh, saddens us and makes us cry buckets and, most of all, without trying, makes us think of our own humanity. In his plays, we are not just at the theater, but on stage ourselves. In every play, there is something for someone: a pratfall, a joke, a fairy queen, a monster, a magician losing his magic, a king losing his kingdom, the outsider trying to find his way in an alien society and a parade of hypnotic, strong, beautiful female characters, which their swains and male contemporaries never quite understand.

That is the wonder of Will, just like today.

DC Artswatch

April 6, 2016

The annual meeting of the American Alliance of Museums, the world’s largest gathering of museum professionals, will be held in D.C. May 26 to 29. Featured speakers include Dr. Mae Jemison, the first woman of color to go into space; Dr. David Skorton, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; and the five-time presidential candidate who founded the American Museum of Tort Law in his hometown of Winsted, Connecticut. Advance registration closes April 29.

Levine Music will begin offering classes this fall at the Silver Spring Library, which opened last year in a new $70 million downtown building. In addition to its main campus in Van Ness, Levine has locations at THEARC in Southeast, Strathmore in North Bethesda and Westover Baptist Church in Arlington. The school was founded in 1976 in memory of D.C. attorney Selma Levine.

Chase Maggiano, executive director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., has been named executive director of The Washington Chorus, succeeding Dianne Peterson, chief administrator of the chorus since 1986. Maggiano, a violinist, McLean native and George Washington University alum, will start in July. Founded in 1961, the Grammy Award-winning Washington Chorus frequently performs with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Photography as Fine Art, Then and Now

April 4, 2016

We live in a time when photographs are not sacred. And that’s okay. In a lot of ways, it’s actually incredible.

If by some mechanism of science-fiction fantasy we could go back in time and suggest to the late 19th century that photography, one of the most recent and game-changing inventions in history, would become so commonplace over the next 150 years that each citizen personally carries the technology in his or her back pocket, I’m sure it would raise a few eyebrows.

The proliferation and convenience of digital photography has changed the way we interact with the world. There is no longer the requirement to develop the photographs, there is basically unlimited storage space and an endless supply of “film.” We can take as many pictures as we want whenever we want. It’s an instantaneous and expendable medium in a way that it never was.

I don’t believe it is inaccurate or controversial to say that — in a broad-stroke sort of way — as a society we no longer really consider the value of a single photograph. Or perhaps it is that a single photograph (with occasional and obvious exceptions) simply does not carry much value. Instead, we want lots of them, all the time.

This presents a real challenge to actual photographers, particularly artists who deal with photography as a visual medium and a history in itself. How can one make the experience of a photograph unique and singular again?

Another strange dilemma of our generation’s gluttonous relationship to photography is how it effects the way we see older photographs. Considering history inevitably requires understanding of and empathy with the knowledge, values and beliefs of a time period. So when looking at a photograph from the turn of the 20th century, it requires an act of willful distortion; we must try to imagine what it felt like to see a single beautiful image in a time when a photograph was comparatively rare — when people did not look at hundreds a day — when we were still learning about how to look at them and what they could teach us.

The National Gallery of Art is confronting these ideas with two complementary exhibitions that offer a provocative, multifaceted exploration of the history and present state of photography as art.

Through Sept. 13, “The Memory of Time: Contemporary Photographs at the National Gallery of Art” presents work by contemporary artists who investigate the richness and complexity of photography’s relationship to time, memory and history.
In the neighboring gallery, through July 26, “In Light of the Past: Twenty-Five Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art” showcases some 175 masterpieces from the Gallery’s photography collection (initiated 25 years ago), highlighting exquisite 19th century works and turn-of-the-century pictorialist photographs, exceptional examples of international modernism from the 1920s and 1930s and seminal mid-20th-century American photography, as well as photographs exploring new directions in color and conceptual art from the 1960s and 1970s.

An interesting aspect of the “The Memory of Time” shows us how contemporary fine-art photographers are exploring the science and history of their medium. Part chemists, part anthropologists, photographers like Sally Mann, Myra Greene, Adam Fuss, Idris Khan and many others are producing gelatin silver prints, daguerreotypes, salted paper prints, ambrotypes; they are using camera obscuras, experimenting with long and primitive exposures. These artists are pointing historical lenses at a modern world, and the results are quite simply breathtaking. This exhibition is a spoil of austere, tonal beauty.

It would be remiss not to mention Moyra Davey’s “Copperhead” series, a wall of nearly a dozen near-microscopic views of Lincoln’s face on the US penny — part of a series of 100 photographs — exhibiting the deterioration, gouges and discolored, molding and mottled surfaces of the coins. It is Lincoln defaced, ravaged by time and relegated to the least valuable unit of currency. The exhibition text suggests that this points toward the devaluation of history in contemporary culture, but that strikes me as dramatically curmudgeonly. I would offer that, as concepts go, this is merely the fate of all history, as it gets rolled, spat about and distorted through time and distance. It is a sad and beautiful image.

As I walked through the next exhibition, “In Light of the Past,” this notion stuck with me. I saw the iconic series of a running man by Eadweard Muybridge, the Photo Secessionists Steichen and Stieglitz, the breathtaking Depression-era subway portraits of Walker Evans. Beyond that, there was the glamour and thump of carnivals, the hazy bars and urban development of the post-war era and the unraveling of that ecstatic era into Richard Misrach’s 1983 photograph of a flooded marina in the Salton Sea — where the defunct remains of a ’50s-era gas station sit submerged in a shallow ocean.

DC Artswatch

March 16, 2016

An opening date was announced for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Art and Culture, which has reached its full five-story height on the National Mall: Saturday, Sept. 24. A multiday indoor-outdoor celebration will follow the ribbon-cutting by President Obama. The museum is currently making use of space on the second floor of the National Museum of American History.

Named not for a character from Dickens, but for the National Portrait Gallery volunteer who endowed the program, the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition will open March 12. Works by about 50 finalists, along with the portrait that was awarded the $25,000 grand prize, will be on view through Jan. 8. Virginia Outwin Boochever, who died in 2005, was among the first commissioned officers in the World War II women’s branch of the U.S. Naval Reserve.

There is one red entrance to Dupont Underground, the former trolley station capped by Dupont Circle. To unseal more of the access staircases by the April 30 opening of the new contemporary art space’s inaugural installation (of several hundred thousand plastic balls), a crowdfunding campaign called “Open These Doors!” has been launched. The winner of the “Re-Ball!” design competition will be announced March 21.

Ballerina Julie Kent, 46, a principal dancer with New York’s American Ballet Theatre from 1993 to 2015, was named artistic director of The Washington Ballet, effective July 1. Kent, who went to Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, is married to ABT associate artistic director Victor Barbee, 61, who will become her colleague in Washington as associate artistic director. Completing his 17th and final season as artistic director, Septime Webre will speak at Georgetown Media Group’s April 7 Cultural Leadership Breakfast.

Georgetown Artists on Display at House of Sweden

February 27, 2016

The artwork of Georgetown artists is now on view at the House of Sweden, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Sunday, Feb. 28. Georgetown Arts 2016, presented by the Citizens Association of Georgetown, showcases the talents of more than 30 Georgetown artists.

On Saturday, Christopher Addison from Addison/Ripley gallery will speak. There will also be “artist talks” on Saturday and Sunday between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
 
A main sponsor, the House of Sweden is at 2900 K St. NW on the Georgetown waterfront, next to Washington Harbour; a photo ID is required to enter the embassy.

The event is free and open to all. For more information, contact the Citizens Association at cagtownarts@gmail.com.

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‘Gauguin to Picasso’ at the Phillips

January 11, 2016

Among our intermingling generations of highly fluent arts enthusiasts, there are loose classifications and widely shared sentiments around various periods that evolve into a kind of shorthand. Certainly one of the most common collective opinions is the steadfast exaltation that we reserve for painters from about 1870 through the 1920s. No recent period in art history elicits as much untethered adoration in the popular consciousness as that from, say, Gauguin to Picasso.

At the Phillips Collection through Jan. 10, “Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from Switzerland” showcases a sensationally good collection of work that goes from Impressionism through early Modernism, never before exhibited in the United States. Centered around the collections of two pioneering supporters of the arts, Rudolf Staechelin (1881–1946) and Karl Im Obersteg (1883–1969), the show is rife with rare and famous masterworks from many of our favorite painters, as well as striking paintings by lesser-known artists of the time that will stake immediate claims in the territory of our memory.

To start with the heavy hitters, there are some breathtaking pieces by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Pissarro, Cézanne and Picasso, as well as by Chaim Soutine and Marc Chagall. Van Gogh’s “The Garden of Daubigny” shows us one of his most intriguing and lovely compositions, which says a lot for an artist of such unparalleled sense for arrangement. In “The Red Herrings,” he pulls light from darkness with stunning visual force, and the scaly terrain of this dusky, greasy pile of fish comes to life in a way rarely seen from the painter.

What might be the centerpiece of the entire exhibition, Gauguin’s “When Will You Marry? (Nafea faa ipoipo)” is a rather trance-inducing portrait of two Maori women in a colorful, idyllic landscape. With the demure, statuesque, impenetrable faces of the mysterious green-skinned women, this is an exemplary representative of the artist’s Tahitian paintings.

A double-sided panel by Picasso sits like a throne in the center of the main gallery. On one side, “The Absinthe Drinker” is a comically glum and charming portrait. On the verso, “Woman at the Theater” is a rare treat of muddy, exploratory brushwork from our crown prince of Modernism, the subtle pomposity of her posture perfectly attuned to her character.

The works by Soutine are just great. Using a palette of evening sea foam and raw clay, “Dead Pheasant” recalls the shriveled, cold weight of dead game with brushwork and an inherent sense of suffering that would make Francis Bacon drool.

And, of course, Chagall. Is there anyone better, more stylistically precise, more endlessly creative in arrangement and color? Chagall was so attuned to the joys of geometry that just to stand before his work is a treat. Compounding Fauvism and Cubism into his own singular, exuberant expression of Judaic pseudo-iconography, his cultural specificity was both brave and innovative in his time. His three portraits of rabbis in the final gallery of the exhibition are worth the price of admission.

The exhibition also features works by less familiar artists that stand up admirably to the big names, most notably Ferdinand.

Among our intermingling generations of highly fluent arts enthusiasts, there are loose classifications and widely shared sentiments around various periods that evolve into a kind of shorthand. Certainly one of the most common collective opinions is the steadfast exaltation that we reserve for painters from about 1870 through the 1920s. No recent period in art history elicits as much untethered adoration in the popular consciousness as that from, say, Gauguin to Picasso.

At the Phillips Collection through Jan. 10, “Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from Switzerland” showcases a sensationally good collection of work that goes from Impressionism through early Modernism, never before exhibited in the United States. Centered around the collections of two pioneering supporters of the arts, Rudolf Staechelin (1881–1946) and Karl Im Obersteg (1883–1969), the show is rife with rare and famous masterworks from many of our favorite painters, as well as striking paintings by lesser-known artists of the time that will stake immediate claims in the territory of our memory.

To start with the heavy hitters, there are some breathtaking pieces by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Pissarro, Cézanne and Picasso, as well as by Chaim Soutine and Marc Chagall. Van Gogh’s “The Garden of Daubigny” shows us one of his most intriguing and lovely compositions, which says a lot for an artist of such unparalleled sense for arrangement. In “The Red Herrings,” he pulls light from darkness with stunning visual force, and the scaly terrain of this dusky, greasy pile of fish comes to life in a way rarely seen from the painter.

What might be the centerpiece of the entire exhibition, Gauguin’s “When Will You Marry? (Nafea faa ipoipo)” is a rather trance-inducing portrait of two Maori women in a colorful, idyllic landscape. With the demure, statuesque, impenetrable faces of the mysterious green-skinned women, this is an exemplary representative of the artist’s Tahitian paintings.

A double-sided panel by Picasso sits like a throne in the center of the main gallery. On one side, “The Absinthe Drinker” is a comically glum and charming portrait. On the verso, “Woman at the Theater” is a rare treat of muddy, exploratory brushwork from our crown prince of Modernism, the subtle pomposity of her posture perfectly attuned to her character.
The works by Soutine are just great. Using a palette of evening sea foam and raw clay, “Dead Pheasant” recalls the shriveled, cold weight of dead game with brushwork and an inherent sense of suffering that would make Francis Bacon drool.

And, of course, Chagall. Is there anyone better, more stylistically precise, more endlessly creative in arrangement and color? Chagall was so attuned to the joys of geometry that just to stand before his work is a treat. Compounding Fauvism and Cubism into his own singular, exuberant expression of Judaic pseudo-iconography, his cultural specificity was both brave and innovative in his time. His three portraits of rabbis in the final gallery of the exhibition are worth the price of admission.

The exhibition also features works by less familiar artists that stand up admirably to the big names, most notably Ferdinand Hodler (1853–1918) and Alexej von Jawlensky (1864–1941). (Neither Hodler nor Jawlensky are pushovers. Jawlensky’s canvases regularly fetch in the millions at auction and Hodler is one of the most popular Swiss painters of the 19th century. But when put alongside the names that have just been tossed around, any artist can look like small potatoes.)

Jawlensky’s “Child” is a boxy, marionette-like seated portrait of a funny little girl. Like many children, she is severe in expression but made ridiculous by the very condition of her youngness. With overly rouged cheeks and a demeaning red bow fastened atop her straw-blond head like a cherry on a sundae, her entire existence up to this point amounts to following with aloof expectancy the dictates of her parents. Jawlensky was an Expressionist who moved from Russia to Germany as a young man and became a member of the prominent Blue Rider group alongside Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky. In the context of “Child,” his bold and sun-kissed colors take on new meaning.

A trio of paintings by Hodler are the most sobering in the exhibition, recording the slow death of his lover and fellow painter Valentine Godé-Darel. In two, both titled “The Patient,” she is shown lying in bed. They will remind anyone who has gone through a loved one’s passing of the acrid tinge and fleeting jolts of pained hope that encircle the terminally ill. The final painting, “The Dead,” is immediate, blunt, austere and troubling. The stark accuracy of the hard mattress and chunky pillow, the dead weight of the body stretched across them with its hollow, bloodless face, make it devastating.

Perhaps we should try to end on a lighter note, but, alas, this is sometimes where art takes us. Nevertheless, “Gauguin to Picasso” is a show that will refresh your senses in that particular way that only great paintings can.
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