Changing 14th Street

July 27, 2011

In just two decades, the street formerly dubbed “auto row” has been reborn as the Fourteenth Street Arts Corridor – a hip, fun stretch of road lined with trendy boutiques, cute restaurants and of course, art galleries exhibiting a wealth of talents, styles and expressions.

Irvine Contemporary Art

1412 14th St. NW | (202) 332-8767 |
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11AM-6PM
The Irvine Contemporary Art Gallery celebrates its 10th anniversary with Artists Tribute, its summer exhibition series featuring artists who have shared their talent with the gallery over the years. The gallery supports emerging contemporary artists who specialize in a myriad of styles and media.

Photo courtesy of Irvine Contemporary and the Artist: Oliver Vernon, “Lifelines”, 2011.

Hemphill Fine Arts

1515 14th St. NW | (202) 234-5601 |
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 AM – 5 PM
It would be impossible to categorize Hemphill Fine Artsin a single word because the breadth of talent and variety of style defies classification, leaving audiences to ponder and explore the diverse subject matter and materials. Its current exhibition, Workingman Collective: Prospects and Provision will run until August 20.

Photo courtesy of Workingman Collective and Hemphill Fine Arts: Workingman Collective, Provisions (installation view), 2011

Gallery Plan B

1530 14th St. NW | (202) 507-8165 |
Hours: Wednesday – Saturday 12-7 PM, Sunday1-5 PM
A newer presence on the corridor,Gallery Plan B thrives on the diversity and experimentation of its artists’ work. This freeness of style coheres with the casual, relaxed atmosphere of the gallery itself. Gallery Plan B is currently hosting an exhibition by Lauren Sleat, which will continue through July 24.

Photo from gallery website: Drawing by Lauren K. Sleat, 2009

DC Loft Gallery

1926 14th St. NW | (202) 507-8165 |
The assorted art on exhibit at the DC Loft Gallery reflect the ever-changing trends and styles of D.C. society. The gallery is new to the corridor, having just opened in September 2010, and welcomes the work of local artists and art students. The owner himself, Joseph Teshome, is not an artist but a software developer, making innovation a common theme in both aspects of his life.

Photo from DilipSheth, “Circle of Life”, 2011

Hamiltonian Gallery

1353 U St. NW | (202) 332-1116 |
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12:00 – 6:00 PM
The building that houses the Hamiltonian Gallery was originally built as a stable in 1988. The building might have a long history, but the artists promoted by the gallery have only just begun to write theirs. Zoë Charlton is curating the current exhibit, Fellows Converge: Broadly Thinking, featuring work by the gallery’s newest fellows and encouraging them to analyze and critique each others work.

Photo from gallery website: Jenny Mullins “Mountian Dew Presents The Dew Love Dharma Tent”, 2011

Transformer Gallery

1404 P St. NW | (202) 483-1102 |
Hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 1-7 PM
The Tranformer Gallery strives to promote and cultivate the talent and reputation of new artists, and encourages them to push the boundaries of traditional art styles and media. The gallery’s summer exhibition, E8: Sculpture, is one of a series of exhibitions by emerging artists as part of the program Exercises for Emerging Artists. E8 will spotlight sculptors Oreen Cohen, Sean Lundgren and LindsyRowinski individually.

Photo courtesy of Transformer Gallery: Oreen Cohen “Running Drill”, 2011

Adamson Galleries

1515 14th St. NW | (202) 232-0707 |
Hours: Tuesday -Friday 11:30-5:00 PM,?Saturday 12:00-5:00 PM
Exhibitions at the Adamson Gallery feature everything from fine art prints to sculpture, with particular interest in photography and work by established artists.The gallery and the affiliated Adamson Editions – originally a lithography studio – were founded by Master Printer David Adamson, who was also one of the world’s first digital ateliers in the 90s.

Photo courtesy of Adamson Gallery: Portrait of Kate Moss by Chuck Close – “untitled” ( Kate)
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Returning to Paint

July 26, 2011

Inscape that has hints of the natural world as well as jewel-fragments is found in the work of Robin Kohlman Fried (Temple Emanuel, Art in HaMaKom, 10101 Connecticut Ave, Kensington, MD; Mon. – Thu. 2:30 -5, Fri. 9-4; though Sept. 30.) Although relatively smaller in scale than some of this artist’s earlier work, these pictures seem done on a dare to create as wide an arc as possible in terms of color and composition. That Fried succeeds on her own terms in each picture is the result of her own gifts, but also a strong determination.

Fried seems fired up in each piece using every technique at her disposal to manifest a rich inner world. She speaks of a long hiatus in her working as a painter that is experienced by many who initially start out in adolescence and early adulthood to pursue a creative path. “I fully intended to keep painting when I first became a mother,” She recalls, “but I had to give my complete attention
to raising my children. In my inner world I was an artist, even though I was no longer painting. I was seen by others as a parent and as someone active in the community.”

What Fried did not do was stop looking at art and going to museums; her inner dialogue was kept alive through being in contact with art. What made her want to paint again was seeing all the new art work being made that was “over intellectualized…I wanted to affirm the aesthetics I value that seem ignored in much work today.”

The works by Fried in this show are carefully made and manage that delicate balance between the heat of spontaneity and the coolness of the critical judgment involved in balancing color and composition. Her pictures have a sensuous attack on surface and pictorial space. There is also a use of collage elements, but Fried’s craft is so secure that you often have to look hard to see the edges. Each work is separate in its achievement and what is especially noteworthy is the carefully achieved color. Fried is a terrific colorist, a quality that has to be inborn.

It is the freedom of the painting that triumphs in Fried’s work. In “Glimmer Glass,” there is temerity of purpose. “Secret Garden” is another work that is highly individualized with an exuberance of paint. Fried’s work is a private inner world dared into the light of day.

Tom Wolff’s Portrait Project

The best photography show currently running in the DC area is Tom Wolff’s portrait series, at the 39th Street Gallery in Brentwood, Maryland (3901 Rhode Island Ave). Wolff recalls, “The idea of the project was to do a photographic survey of the arts district in Mt. Rainier, North Brentwood, and Hyattsville, focusing on the art community and the business owners. This is an effort to introduce people in the area to one another and build a friend base for the art center. I shot for about two months to get the first 70 portraits and I will continue to add to the group until it closes October 29th.” The excellence and variety of his work astonishes [gallery ids="99201,103431,103428" nav="thumbs"]

David Richardson at the Ralls Collection

It is rare to find such a steady and yet exciting subject as is found in both the paintings and the person of artist David Richardson. With an astonishing discipline, he has explored and unraveled three series of paintings, any one of them strong enough to exhibit individually. In a roiling assault of nebulous symbols – some seemingly unconscious, some loud and overt – and vast planes of bold colors and textures, his work recalls a landscape both foreign and familiar, contained yet effusive. Richardson’s work seems to be chasing something beyond the artist’s own vision. The revisiting and evolution of repeated shape and composition unfold like chapters of a great novel: questioning, but sure of the direction. His exhibition at the Ralls Collection, running through the end of the year, establishes him firmly in the forefront of abstract painters of the day. The exhibit is one of the highlights of the visual arts season. The Georgetowner sat down to speak with Richardson
about his work.

David Richardson’s exhibit, “Trojan War Years,” is on display at the Ralls Collection from October 6 – December 31. For more information, visit

Where are you from? How did your upbringing shape your life as a painter?

I’m from Michigan. Most folks think of Detroit when they think of Michigan. That’s not the Michigan I come from. I grew up in a semi-rural environment – a marshland with a river meandering
through it. My brothers and I fished a lot, trapped raccoons and muskrats for their hides and ran the river in canoes camping and shooting guns. It is romantic to me now. It wasn’t then. My mom and older brother painted. My mother was still selling her work and teaching painting in her house when she died last year. Today, my brother lives in Germany, paints and exhibits his work around Europe. As a kid I drew a lot and eventually began painting, following in the footsteps of my mom and older brother. I don’t remember when I first drew or painted. It was early in life. I started college on an art scholarship, but I didn’t much take my own painting seriously until I was twenty-three or so.

Did your experience in the military and combat impact or inspire your work?

Somewhat. Of course travel, particularly to Asia, has had an impact on my work. I’d been to Europe before joining the service, but I went to Asia only because I was sent there. It turned out a good experience. The impetus of all three series the Ralls Collection is showing came while I was overseas.

It gets a little more personal than that, though. During the initial stages of the war, I was left behind teaching at George Washington University. This was somewhat traumatic for me as my closest friends were with combat units and participating in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The agony of watching from the sidelines pushed me further into painting. At the time I was working on the early stages of the series based on the Japanese stone markers. I began to title them using characters from Homer’s Iliad. I had that text on hand because I’d refer to it now and then in class. The characters in the Iliad are nuanced and the war brings out the worst and the best in them. Of course, it’s the same in real life. It’s not an accident that the Iliad is the fountainhead of Western literature. It still resonates twenty-five hundred odd years later. At least it did with me.

While working on a series as comprehensive as the Trojan War Series, you impose upon yourself very strict limitations and boundaries, in terms of composition, value, concept, etc. In establishing these boundaries, what have you noticed in the transformation of the work, and your own styles and objectives in painting?

That is a tough question. It’s tough because I never consciously set the boundaries. They evolved, and they evolved out of figurative painting. The evolution took a long time – about fifteen years. But once I had this framework, it became this box where I could practice color, composition and other elements of painting. Another way of looking at it is that I’ve used the stone motif and the symbol of the cross much as somebody would use the figure or still life to practice picture making. I’m always looking for a new box to practice within, by the way.

Your paintings are abstract, to be sure, but they draw largely upon tangible elements: the streets of Seoul, neon crosses, inscribed Japanese stones, military symbols, even stencil lettering. How do you define your style of working?

Well, I’d say it falls generally into the broad category of Modernist type painting – Clement Greenberg’s term. Beyond that, I don’t know how to categorize it. I’d leave that to someone who knows more about art than I do.

Did you work on many of these pieces living abroad? How did that affect the outcome of the work?

I didn’t paint anything from the series based on Japanese stone markers and Homer’s Iliad when I was overseas the last time. I tried, but it simply didn’t work. I ended up doing composite work based on some visuals I picked up in Seoul. However, the paintings did not start out as composites. That evolved. I was actually painting symbols on small canvases that I carried home on my bike from a carpenter’s shop. I had painted about twenty of these small pieces when I started organizing them into larger pieces. Some of these pieces are at the Ralls Collection now. You can see I clamped the canvases together tightly and then secured them in place with screws. The result was sort of organized chaos, that thing that often seems to surround one while living in a foreign country.

Who are some of your influences as a painter?

Adolph Gottlieb was the first non-figurative painter I became transfixed by, so that’s a start. Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Motherwell are others that everybody knows. Yet I remember being in Mexico in the mid-nineties and seeing profound folk paintings based on simple motifs. The same goes for pictures I saw in Japan and Korea. Now I wish I’d collected some of these pieces. Closer to me, the Washington DC painter John Blee has had a big impact on the tone of my work. Looking at Blee’s work keeps my palette from getting too somber. His dedication to painting is unmatched.

Of course from an early age, both my brother’s and my mother’s painting greatly influenced my work. I used to tell my mother I stole her color palette–she said she didn’t mind, by the way. My brother opened my mind to the possibilities of figure abstraction and abstraction in general.

What are your favorite museum exhibits in DC right now?

The American Modernism showing at the National
Gallery right now. I particularly like the pieces by Dove, Marin and Hartley. I’ve spent a lot of time out of the country – so much that I have developed a particular passion for things American: skyscrapers, cowboys, highways through the desert, the Shenandoah Valley and the bravery of our painting. Go anywhere you wish in the world and you can’t beat the boldness of Avery, Pollock, Kline, Basquiat, Johns or Rauschenberg. These painters aren’t in that particular exhibit, but you get what I mean.

What would your advice be to a painter struggling with inspiration, unsure of what to paint?

Well, you know the thing about inspiration…a little goes a long way if you work hard after the fact. I don’t think what you paint actually matters. Find something that interests you and attack it, hard. Paint that, then go to museums and exhibits and look at painting. See how others are doing it or did it. Then, go back and paint more and then look at more painting. Keep doing it. Hang out with other painters and talk about it. Eventually, it melds into something cohesive and true. [gallery ids="99206,103450,103446,103444" nav="thumbs"]

Sam Gilliam & The Phillips Collection

“Leonardo da Vinci wasn’t new,” says Sam Gilliam. “It’s the way that, in his context, he used all the information that he had that was very important in that particular moment. No art is really new in that sense.”

In a given conversation Gilliam’s historic references weave through centuries of artistic progress and evolution, envisioning the entire span of art history up to now as a sweeping landscape to be absorbed at one time. One of the last vestiges of Washington’s original visual arts community from the 1960s, Gilliam has long been known for his involvement with the influential Washington Color School—among painters like Morris Louis and and Kenneth Noland—and for innovating the unsupported canvas, which challenged preconceived categories of art.

He does not discuss his artistic influences without referencing the influences of those artists, and does not credit one artistic innovation without mention of its catalysts. “You can’t know the present or future without knowing the past,” he says. “Then you build your own concepts.”

With a loud and wielding intellect, Gilliam touts art as an ideal to achieve, as a fundamental in itself. He believes strongly in the future, education and progression of art, but is openly distressed over its current state. “In 1968,” he says, “more and more young people started trying to become artists in this city. There was a very good art scene in Washington… But the scene here almost failed two or three years ago when the 14th Street galleries mostly closed—the good ones, like G Fine Arts. And the NEA hasn’t gotten around to giving any grants to the visual arts.”

His worries are supported by a 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts conducted by the NEA, which reported a 5% decline in arts participation by Americans since the previous survey (2001-2002), noting that “rapid advances in technology had enabled more access to arts events and arts creation through portable devices and the internet.”

Dwindling interest in the arts is not a new conversation, especially within painting and the visual arts, which has been proclaimed dead innumerable times since at least the days of Abstract Expressionism. But connecting with the past and finding shared ground within the rocky historical terrain of visual art is just what propels Gilliam and his work into the future.

This is showcased in his current installation at The Phillips Collection, coinciding with the museum’s 90th anniversary, where his site-specific painting for the museum’s elliptical staircase (on view until April 24) hangs adjacent to a gallery with works that Gilliam chose by Arthur Dove, Jackson Pollock and John Marin, using the canon of American painters “as a way of defining what’s going to happen in the future.”

Dove’s artwork, specifically his painting “Flour Mill II” (1938), are profoundly influential paintings for Gilliam, who first saw the work at the Phillips in the early 1960s. His current installation is a direct response to the painting, bridging history and influence and reviving the past in a candid and innovative way.

As a painter who has never abandoned his city, Gilliam’s installation at The Phillips is an achievement for the Washington art community. His first show at the Phillips was in 1967, and since then he has been active in the international art scene while remaining devoted and influential to local artistic circles. This installation reinforces the community among the city’s visual arts efforts and breathes new life into the Phillips as a contemporary art museum.

While he hasn’t worked with the Phillips in a major way since his 1967 exhibition, Gilliam notes The Phillips as a source of inspiration and study throughout the years to which he has returned frequently, using the museum’s collection to inform his own paintings. “The Phillips was showing art that was very inspirational when you first came to Washington in the 60s. I would go back for Morris Louis, Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Man Ray, Van Gogh, George Braque…”

Despite setbacks and economic instability, Gilliam sees promise in Washington’s art scene. “The Phillips was just born again,” he says. “So was the National Gallery. In a sense, so has the Hirshhorn. There are new curators there and people that will put things before you. They are really set to take off. The only thing that they don’t have is as many bars as they used to have on Connecticut Avenue—more places to converse.”

Sam Gilliam’s intallation will be on view at The Phillips Collection through April 24. Also on view is an exhibition of artist David Smith, who Gilliam credits as a major influence of color field painting. For more information visit
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Abstract Expressionism at New York’s MoMA

Visiting New York right now should include MoMA. The Museum of Modern Art sits in the middle of mid-town Manhattan in an assortment of buildings starting with the first International Style building in America by Stone and Goodwin, to the recent add-on by Taniguchi. With all the adding, the subtraction of this process has been the alteration of the way the original building opened onto the sculpture garden. It was once a real jewel of an urban space. I remember watching Natalie Wood way back in 1966 in MoMA’s garden, during the filming of “Penelope,” blowing bubble-gum.

Currently there is a triumphant show, “Abstract Expressionist New York” on the entire fourth floor that somehow fits the space of MoMA like no other. If you ever doubted the power of Jackson Pollock’s gifts you go away awed by his classical command of drawing and the creation of a totally new pictorial space. Somehow he keeps his demons at bay, but their power energizes his sometimes enormous pictures. All works in this show are in MoMA’s permanent collection. Pollock’s work exhibited here rivals anything else in MoMA.

There are several artists given solo-gallery status including Guston, Pollock, Rothko and Newman, with a few half-galleries thrown in for Kline and Gorky. David Smith’s sculpture is sprinkled throughout the galleries to great effect with his “Australia” standing triumphantly in juxtaposition with Pollock.

No museum can beat the assembled collection of Barnett Newman with “Vir Heroicus Sublimis.”
The Rothko room at MoMA is a treat, and one hopes it could be left up. Though seeing MoMA’s Rothkos makes one realize that DC’s own National Gallery has a much richer selection. Tie that together with the Phillips Collection’s Rothko Room and DC wins as Rothko City! Also the National Gallery’s “Stations of the Cross” by Barnett Newman comes close to matching MoMA.

De Kooning is the one painter that was a giant of the movement that is slighted in this show. He is not given his own room. And why in the world did they not show “Woman II,” which they own, along with “Woman I?” The one painterly abstraction “A Tree in Naples,” from 1960, is not one of the best of that period. Thinking on the title of the show I recall the exclamation of de Kooning at the time, “It is disastrous to name ourselves.”

Women are here in full force with Frankenthaler, Hartigan, Mitchell, Krasner and Sterne. Only Krasner and Hartigan are represented by first-rate work. Lee Krasner is never strong for me, after the 40s. Joan Mitchell really did her greatest work after the 60s. And the lone Frankenthaler should have been replaced by the far greater “Jacob’s Ladder.”

And why do they have the dreadful “Elegy” up by Motherwell when they own a much better one? It is probably due to the fact that today’s curators have discarded quality as an essential element of art.

Photography has its own galleries with great works by Aaron Siskind and Minor White among others. Collaboration with poets is featured in another group of galleries.

Abstract Expressionism, or the New York School, was the last art movement to really have all the arts on board at once. The poets were very much part of the milieu, as were the classical composers: one thinks immediately of Morton Feldman and Stefan Wolpe. All of these artists from various disciplines met at The Club where they discussed art in sometime heated debates.

Perhaps one reason why art has become more impoverished since Abstract Expressionism is this lack of interconnectedness. When I speak with artists today they speak about everything but the arts. They never mention poetry, and have never listened to classical modern music, nor do they attend dance performances.

Remembered fondly is poet, Frank O’Hara, who worked at the information desk at MoMA until someone remarked that he had written a book on Jackson Pollock. He was promptly promoted to curator. What museum would have the guts or wisdom (not a part of Postmodernism) to do that? He was a go-between to many of the artists in this show, and his poem “Why I am not a painter” should be posted on the wall.

Please note MoMA is closed on Tuesdays and “Abstract Expressionist New York” continues through April 25th, 2011.

Spring Visual Arts Preview 2011

Corcoran Gallery of Art

NEXT at the Corcoran: BFA Class of 2011
April 23–May 22, 2011
On the footsteps of Corcoran’s progressive and wonderfully fresh “NOW” series, which spotlights contemporary working artists as comprehensively as most museums cover the classics, comes NEXT, an exhibition of the Corcoran College graduating class of 2011. There is sure to be an impressive array of budding artists on display with the bravado and curiosity that students exemplify, like horses chomping at the bit.

NOW at the Corcoran: Chris Martin
June 18–October 23, 2011
Although abstract, Martin’s paintings are a direct response to the physical world around him. Many of his works integrate objects from his immediate environment into their surfaces, including kitchen utensils, records, photographs, and Persian carpets. The works are as much about daily life—music, travel, and language—as they are about mythology, storytelling, the endurance of symbols, and the role of painting in art history.

Freer | Sackler

Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan
February 26–July 31, 2011 (Sackler Gallery)
Majestic sixth-century Chinese Buddhist sculpture is combined with 3-D imaging technology in this exploration of one of the most important groups of Buddhist devotional sites in early medieval China. Carved into the mountains of northern China, the Buddhist cave temples of Xiangtangshan (pronounced “shahng-tahng-shahn”) were the crowning cultural achievement of the Northern Qi dynasty (550-77 CE). Once home to a magnificent array of sculptures–monumental Buddhas, divine attendant figures, and crouching monsters framed by floral motifs–the limestone caves were severely damaged in the first half of the twentieth century, when their contents were chiseled away and offered for sale on the international art market. The exhibit re-creates the forms and power of these sacred Eastern sculptures as they were originally constructed.


Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977
February 24, 2011- May 15, 2011
Palermo (1943-1977), renowned throughout Europe as an influential postwar painter, has been largely looked over by America. This exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of his work in the United States, reflecting the artist’s progression, follows a loose chronology based on his four main bodies of work.

Directions: Grazia Toderi
Opens April 21, 2011
Best known for her large-scale installations, Toderi calls her video projections “frescoes of light.” The artist works from documentary imagery collected from urban night surveillance and military, satellite, and space program footage. Over these she superimposes her own photography and cinematography, altering the effect with digital manipulations and unifying the vista with sepia-tone filters. The result feels both familiar and mysterious, as the eye struggles to determine the horizon line and read the origins of fields of glimmering lights. Shown on an endless loop, these mesmerizing nightscapes represent the artist’s ambition to “visualize the infinite.”


The Kreeger Museum

In Unison: 20 Washington, DC Artists
January 15 – February 26, 2011
The Kreeger initiated this exhibition with DC artist Sam Gilliam, collecting 20 established artists from the local community, all working in different styles and mediums. All artists were invited to come together to create a series of five monoprints each, one of which was selected for the exhibition by Gilliam, Judy A. Greenberg, Director of The Kreeger, Marsha Mateyka of the Marsha Mateyka Gallery and Claudia Rousseau, Ph.D., art critic and art historian. “The ideas of creating a group portfolio and exhibiting together express the ideas of unity and identity that are underlying motives of the project, and which are vital to sustaining a thriving artistic community,” says Rousseau.

Tom Wesselmann Draws
April 8 – July 30, 2011
American pop artist and collagist Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004) worked feverishly up until the end of his life, creating iconic pop imagery which, almost in contrast to the ironic and dismissive nature of the movement, spoke powerfully toward the history and influences of fine art. The exhibition at the Kreeger, which covers drawings from Wesselmann’s entire career, spanning 1959-2004, is the most comprehensive exhibition of drawings by the artist that has ever been assembled. Many of the 108 works have never been seen outside the artist’s studio in New York.

The Phillips Collection

90 Years of New – 90th Anniversary
Since it first opened its doors in 1921, The Phillips Collection has been revered as a pioneer in contemporary art; it was America’s first museum of modern art, and it has remained a relevant and progressive hub for contemporary fine art throughout its life. The 90th Birthday Celebration, which will stretch into the rest of the year, will feature focuses on a variety of installations, old and new, including an especially created new work by Sam Gilliam, who had his first solo show here in 1967. Firsts, and the re-emergence of classic works purchased by the Phillips will be one of the themes throughout the year.

Kandinsky and the Harmony of Silence: Painting with White Border
June 11–September 4, 2011
After a visit to his native Moscow in 1912, Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944) sought to find a way to record the “extremely powerful impressions” that lingered in his memory. Working tirelessly through numerous drawings, watercolors, and oil studies over a five-month period, Kandinsky eventually arrived at his 1913 masterpiece, Painting with White Border. The exhibition will reunite this painting with over 12 preparatory studies from international collections, including the Phillips’s oil sketch, and compare it with other closely related works. Complemented by an in-depth conservation study of Painting with White Border, the exhibition will provide viewers with a rare glimpse into Kandinsky’s creative process.

National Gallery of Art:

Gauguin: Maker of Myth
February 27–June 5, 2011
Gauguin (1848–1903) was one of the most traveled artists in history, and it showed up in his work. His colorful images of Brittany and the islands of the South Seas are some of the most striking, distinct works of the last 200 years. His travels will be on display in nearly 120 works by Gauguin in the first major look at the artist’s oeuvre in the United States since the NGA’s retrospective of the artist in 1988–1989. The exhibition, organized by Tate Modern, London, brings together an eclectic breadth of self-portraits, genre pictures, still lifes, and landscapes from throughout the artist’s career. It includes not only oil paintings but also pastels, prints, drawings, sculpture, and decorated functional objects.

Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals
February 20–May 30, 2011
Venice inspired a school of competitive painters, who focused on the land, sea and cityscapes of the Bride of the Sea, resulting in a remarkable achievement in 18th-century art. This exhibition celebrates the rich variety of these Venetian views, known as vedute, through some 20 masterworks by Canaletto and more than 30 by his rivals. The painters depicted the famous monuments and vistas of Venice in different moods and seasons.

In the Tower: Nam June Paik
March 13 – October 2
Paik (1932–2006) is a towering figure in contemporary art. Born in Korea and trained in Japan and Germany in aesthetics and music, Paik settled in New York in 1964 and quickly became a pioneer in the integration of art with technology and performance. Considered by many to be the first video artist, this exhibition features a selection from Paik’s estate as well as from the Gallery’s own collection. The centerpiece is One Candle, Candle Projection (1988–2000), one of the artist’s simplest, most dynamic works. Each morning a candle is lit and a video camera follows its progress, casting its flickering, magnified, processed image onto the walls in myriad projections.

Gabriel Metsu 1629–1667
April 17–July 24, 2011
One of the most important Dutch genre painters of the mid-17th century, Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667) could capture ordinary moments of life with freshness and spontaneity. Although his career was relatively short, Metsu enjoyed great success as a genre painter, but also for his religious scenes, still lifes, and portraits. The show will feature some 35 paintings by the artist.

The National Portrait Gallery

Calder’s Portraits: A New Language
March 11-August 14, 2011
Most people recognize Calder (1898-1976) for his grandly ambitious, larger-than-life mobiles, like the one hanging in the main plaza of the NGA’s East Wing, or the “Calder Room” in the same building. What many people don’t know is that Calder was also a prolific portrait artist. Throughout his career Calder portrayed entertainment, sports, and art-world figures, including Josephine Baker, Babe Ruth, and Charles Lindbergh to name a few. Calder worked largely in wire, which he shaped into three-dimensional portraits of considerable character and nuance. Suspended from the wall or ceiling, the portraits are free to move. The movement gives the subjects a life of their own.

Capital Portraits: Treasures from Washington Private Collections
April 8 – September 5, 2011
This exhibition presents portraits that reside in private Washington, DC collections. Many of the works have never been on public display before and the exhibition reveals a remarkable range of styles, images and perhaps most importantly, stories. Works included are by major artists such as John Singleton Copley, Mary Cassatt, and Andy Warhol.

150th Commemoration of the Civil War: The Death of Ellsworth
April 29, 2011 – March 18, 2012
On the site of a former Union hospital, the National Portrait Gallery will mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War through a series of four alcove exhibitions—one each year—commemorating this period of American history. The first of these exhibitions recounts the death of Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth in Alexandria, VA. Ellsworth was a friend of Abraham Lincoln and the first Union officer to be killed in the war.

One Life: Ronald Reagan
July 1, 2011 – May 28, 2012
If you have seen the One Life: Katherine Graham, you don’t need to be told that this is bound to be a small gem of a pictorial biography, with both historical, social and emotional power for anyone who ever cared about Reagan, one way or the other.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America
March 11, 2011 – September 5, 2011
During the 1940s, painter George Ault (1891-1948) created precise yet eerie pictures that have come to be seen, following his death, as some of the most original paintings made in America in those years. To Make a World captures a 1940s America that was rendered fragile by the Great Depression and made anxious by a global conflict.

History in the Making: Renwick Craft Invitational 2011
March 25, 2011 – July 31, 2011
This exhibition presents the work of a group of artists: ceramicist Cliff Lee, furniture maker Matthias Pliessnig, glass artist Judith Schaechter and silversmith Ubaldo Vitali. These four extraordinary artists create works of superior craftsmanship that address the classic craft notion of function without sacrificing a contemporary aesthetic

The Textile Musem

Green: the Color and the Cause
April 16 -September 11, 2011
This exhibition will celebrate everything green, both as a color and as a cause, exploring the techniques people have devised to create green textiles, the meanings this color has held in cultures across time and place, and the ways that contemporary textile artists and designers are responding to concerns about the environment. The exhibition will include a selection of work from the Museum’s collection, along with extraordinary work by contemporary artists and designers from five continents, including two extraordinary on-site installations.

“Shahnama: 1000 Years of the Persian Book of Kings” at the Sackler

The thousand-year-old “Shahnama,” or Persian book of kings, is resplendently represented
in a jewel of a show at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. “Shahnama,” written by the revered ninth century Persian poet Firdawsi, is “in its cultural significance and popularity on equal footing with the works of Shakespeare, Homer and the Mahabharata,” says Massumeh Farhad, chief curator and curator of Islamic art, and organizer of the exhibition.

It is impossible to overstate the cultural importance of Firdawsi. It is not a subtle fact that Arabic is not the national language of Iran, a predominantly Muslim country. Firdawsi’s writing of the “Shahnama”
revived Farsi and made it the cultural as well as the everyday language of Iran. Farsi is spoken in part of Afghanistan, but it was also the court language of the Mughals in India. Firdawsi did this through retelling the actual and sometimes mythical and fantastical stories of the Kings of Iran until the Arab conquest in the seventh century. Included in the tales are three women monarchs. The “Shahnama”
also uses the “Avesta,” a collection of texts sacred to the Zoroastrians, as one of its sources.

The “Shahnama” is not a simple book of myth and history. It also emphasizes justice, a concept that perhaps came into Judaism during contact with the Persians. It also emphasizes divine glory, known as “farr” in modern Farsi.

What can make the eye feel the sublime through color more than the Persian miniature? There is nowhere that greater pleasure can be taken in the concise and daring juxtapositions of shape and intense color in miniatures, including the “Court of Jamshid.” When Jamshid ruled, it is told that, “The world submitted to him, quarrels were laid to rest.” He is credited with establishing the Iranian celebration of Now-ruz, a festive celebration of spring even marked by US presidents with special broadcasts to Iran. It is also said that in the reign of Jamshid, “Men knew nothing of sorrow and evil…and the land was filled with music.” The celebration of Now-ruz as well as music was antithetical to the prevailing religion in Iran. In fact, the current government tried to ban Now-ruz.

In another miniature the tyrant Zahhak, who ruled for a thousand years, is resplendent in red with green sleeves on a low throne embellished with floral design. Behind him are mauve rocky hills. It is said during his reign the wise had to conceal themselves, which is much the same sort of history recounted in the “I Ching.”

One thing to note is that these miniatures were pages in books and were not imagined by their creators as hanging on a wall. Looking at them it is best to imagine holding them in your hands.
The spaces around the figures in the miniatures are often lyrically imagined gardens created in hues of passion. The name “Firdawsi” is a penname, as the word actually means paradise—and paradise in Persia is a garden. Through April 17th, 2011 at the Sackler Gallery. [gallery ids="102550,102551" nav="thumbs"]

Paradise and Modernism: Gauguin at the National Gallery

Paul Gauguin fills part of two floors of the East Wing of the National Gallery with some spectacular works that changed the form and focus of art (“Gauguin: Maker of Myth,” at the National Gallery through June 5). Gauguin’s color greatly influenced the 20th century. Gauguin could use color in an almost empirical way, and it was unlike anything in earlier European art. He was also a born illustrator, and when he joined those talents to his quest for a paradise unfettered by modern civilization, his work broke into a powerful dreamscape, showcased in paintings such as “The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch.”

It was Gauguin’s appreciation of Tahitian art, whose influence he incorporated into his own work, which led directly to Picasso’s appreciation of African art. Accordingly, Picasso had something of a revelation when he saw Gauguin’s phallic sculpture that was meant for his tombstone. That would jump directly into Picasso’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon.” It would also lead in turn to the art of Brancusi, as well as Modigliani’s marvelous sculpture. The paintings exhibited in Gauguin’s work, with its sparing use of paint and illustrative mode, brings into question whether this master did not also influence Picasso’s blue and rose period.

Born in Paris, Gauguin came from a complex parentage, with his mother being partly Peruvian as well as the daughter of an early feminist. Gauguin’s early childhood was spent partly in Peru, which would undoubtedly influence his quest for a pre-European idyll only fulfilled in his last years when he lived in Tahiti. Gauguin was not a paradigm of the good or kind artist. He abandoned his family in Copenhagen along with his job as a stockbroker in order to paint. The modern sleuthing of recent scholars also suggests that Gauguin, an expert fencer, may well have sliced off van Gogh’s ear.

Earlier than van Gogh, in 1919 Gauguin entered the mythology of literature with Somerset Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence.” It later became a movie starring George Sanders. In most of Gauguin’s self-portraits he portrays himself as an earnest, almost ordinary looking man, with the exception of the incredible specimen from the Chester Dale collection in the National Gallery. This very arch and slightly demonic self-portrait is an indelible image that disturbs with its magnetic color and through the use of a snake as a kind of cigarette. Over Gauguin’s own head he painted a halo. Two dangling apples imply a male Eve, and perhaps he is being true to his grandmother, taking original sin onto man.

Another arresting portrait is of Jacob Meyer de Haan, sliced as it is by a shelf with two books. One of the books is “Paradise Lost” by Milton. This is the subject of Gauguin’s greatest works, including “Contes Barbares.” De Haan is placed crouching to the side of two young beauties in the tropics.

Dominating the later galleries of the show is the vision of paradise Gauguin encountered in Tahiti. Earlier there are the peasants he depicted in Brittany with masterpieces such as “The Yellow Christ” and “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.” There may be no greater or more timely 19th century paintings with Biblical subject matter.

Though it is the startling image of “The Loss of Virginity” that almost steals the show. A fox hugs the shoulder of a prone nude girl. Here Gauguin dives deep, going further and further into dream and myth.

“Gauguin: Maker of Myth is at the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art through June 5, 2011.

“20 Years, 20 Artists” at The Ralls Collection

It is difficult to encapsulate the significance of The Ralls Collection to Washington’s artistic community, much in the same way it is hard to grasp the broad archive of substantial artwork that has passed through the gallery since its opening 20 years ago.

In both cases, the amount accomplished and the merit achieved by owner and founder Marsha Ralls dwarfs any singular summation or exhibition. But the work present at The Ralls Collection’s 20th Anniversary Exhibition, “20 Years, 20 Artists” (March 18 – May 28), does not try to weave any sort of narrative or biography. With this show, Ralls has done what she has consistently done for nearly a quarter century: put together a remarkable exhibition of beautiful contemporary artwork with a clear vision and impeccable taste.

A Texas native, Ralls began her career in the arts as an apprentice to American master painter Robert Rauschenberg. After doing consultation and advising work for several major galleries and auction houses, including Sotheby’s Auction House in New York, she founded The Ralls Collection Inc. in 1988 and opened the doors to the corresponding gallery in Georgetown in 1991. Since then, she has been sharing her expertise with the Washington arts community, working within the city and internationally to forward the development, education and appreciation of the arts.

Her more recent accomplishments and contributions include a longstanding seat on the DC Arts & Humanities Commission Board, having been appointed by Anthony Williams in 2004, as well as traveling to the UAE and Saudi Arabia to provide advisory services, looking to collaborate with local leaders on arts initiatives and fostering economic development through the arts.

But inside the doors of The Ralls Collection, you wouldn’t need to know any of this. All that you need to know is hanging on the walls, proving to you that there are still galleries showcasing innovative and relevant artwork in Washington. Like all of Ralls’ other shows, “20 Years, 20 Artists” is focused absolutely on the art and the artists. “We have such close, successful relationships,” she says of the artists she represents, “and I wanted to celebrate them, their art and their contribution to the Ralls Collection.”

Many of the artists Ralls chose for the exhibition have been with the gallery since its beginning, Melinda Stickney and Caio Fonseca among them. Stickney’s “Bliss + Grief,” a modest-size canvas that plays out like a whimsical, brutal family history, utilizes a classical sense of color and composition to realize a deeply textured canvas. Her empirical use of shadow within her weightless, abstract shapes recalls a hyperbolic theatricality and experimentation that is almost literary.

Fonseca’s “Pietrasanta Painting CO6.54” is a huge, encapsulating black canvas, a sort of adumbrated landscape littered with sharp flecks of white that dance around the dark field like a vague melody. A pastoral blueprint that might be reminiscent of Pietrasanta, Italy, where the artist lives and works, the viewer feels immediately comfortable in front of the canvas, but its mystery lingers long after the initial viewing.

Among a select few artists new to the gallery, DC painter John Blee’s “Orchard Mist” serves as a most remarkable centerpiece. The first painting one sees upon entering the gallery, it is a luscious environment of color, which warms you from within like dawn’s first light. Blee’s color is full of meaning, as significant to his searching canvases as with the impressionists, who used their paint to define light, time and atmosphere. Blee has been heavily influenced by poetry, notably the work of Rilke. “It is Rilke’s insistence on putting the impossible at the center of the quest that stays with me every day,” he says.

This influence is clear in his work. Like the garden paintings of Pierre Bonnard, Blee’s paintings are elegant and contemplative, effortlessly composed, intricate and expansive. Blee’s work will be exhibited in a solo show at The Ralls Collection this coming fall, which this paper greatly anticipates. Keep an eye out for it in the coming months. It is not a show you want to miss.

Two canvases by David Richardson, whose show at The Ralls Collection ran through last month and garnered tremendous national attention, hang in the gallery for the exhibition, including a new piece commissioned for the show. With Richardson’s planes of bold colors and textures, his work recalls a landscape both foreign and familiar, contained yet effusive.

Ralls has assembled another monumental exhibition, significant to the local community and the artistic community at large. Masters like Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Serra hang next to renowned local and international painters, bridging an array of styles and influence into a cohesive and relevant body of works. It is only March, but this exhibition will surely go down as one of the major arts events of 2011.

“20 Years, 20 Artists” will be on view at The Ralls Collection through May 28. For more information visit