End of Summer Wrap-upAugust 7, 2013

August 8, 2013

**[Freer and Sackler Galleries](http://www.Asia.SI.edu)**
?Perspectives: Rina Banerjee?
*Through June 8, 2014*
The Sackler Gallery will feature the work of Rina Banerjee (b. 1963), an Indian born artist working out of New York City, who draws on her background as a scientist and her experience as an immigrant. Her richly textured works complicate the role of objects as representations of cultures and invite viewers to share her fascination in materials, both personally and as it relates to world histories. By juxtaposing organic and plastic objects?such as combining ornate textiles and animal forms with tourist souvenirs?she concocts fairy-tale worlds that are both enticing and subtly menacing.

Combining elements of collage, pop art and contemporary installation work with a keen sense for the memory effects that textures can impart, Banerjee?s vision has an explorative theatricality about it, as well as a sort of twisted, gothic whimsy. It is like the excavation of conflagrated multiculturalism, and it is a wonder to behold.

Touching on themes of migration and transformation, the installation?s lengthy title likewise conveys the sense of a long journey: ?A World Lost: after the original island, single land mass fractured, after populations migrated, after pollution revealed itself and as cultural locations once separated merged, after the splitting of Adam and Eve, Shiva and Shakti, of race black and white, of culture East and West, after animals diminished, after the seas? corals did exterminate, after this and at last imagine all water evaporated … this after Columbus found it we lost it imagine this.?

**[The Hirshhorn](http://www.Hirshhorn.SI.edu)**
?Peter Coffin: Here and There?
*Through Oct. 6*
Throughout his career, Peter Coffin (b. 1972); lives and works in New York) has created an unpredictable and eclectic array of works, including many that express a sense of joy and sometimes, humor. Born in Berkeley, Calif., the New York-based artist?s practice includes photography, assemblage, performance, time-based media, installations, sound art, and sculpture in many forms, often drawing inspiration from odd facts or obscure theories. To emphasize the artist?s chameleon-like virtuosity, the works in the exhibition, rather than being concentrated within one exhibition area, are installed in spaces around the Museum. Nature, science, pseudo-science, psychological displacement, urban happenstance, and ?what if? brainstorms are among the myriad departure points for his pieces, but what is constant is the undercurrent of his unique, exuberant subversiveness.

**[The Textile Museum](http://www.TextileMuseum.org)**
?Out of Southeast Asia: Art That Sustains?
*Through Oct. 13*
Southeast Asian textiles first served as markers of ethnic identity, distinguishing neighboring communities by pattern, color and technique. Now, commercial production challenges these practices, yet the artistic wealth of these several hundred groups continues to inspire artists from around the world. ?Out of Southeast Asia: Art That Sustains? explores the intersection of these rich traditions and their interpretation within contemporary art and design.

Historical textile artworks from the Textile Museum?s magnificent Southeast Asian collections?including batiks from Indonesia and brocades and ikats from Laos?will be displayed alongside the work of four contemporary textile artists and designers: batik artists Nia Fliam, Agus Ismoyo, and Vernal Bogren Swift, and weaver Carol Cassidy. All of their works originate in Southeast Asian concepts, realized in certain design elements, technical details, and philosophical underpinnings. ?Out of Southeast Asia? demonstrates how contemporary artists are preserving the traditional arts even as they interpret them in new and innovative ways.

As the Textile Museum prepares to move to its new location, ?Out of Southeast Asia? provides a fitting visual link between the past, present and future while demonstrating the continued relevance of traditional textiles.


Dupont Circle Gallery Walk

May 9, 2013


2026 R Street NW


Cross Mackenzie Gallery is presenting “Pier Three Warehouse 2012” through June 5, an exhibition of work by up-and-coming architectural photographer John Cole. The images in this series, “Walls,” are about observing mindfully, seeing thoughtfully, paying closer attention and looking anew. Cole explores his relationship with his surroundings through his subtle framing of the seemingly mundane, recalling 20th century American photographers Lewis Baltz and Harry Callahan. In Cole’s photographs, a building wall becomes more than just a façade, revealing histories of weather, abrasion, sunlight and the shadow of human presence. In Cole’s exhibit, the “writing on the wall” is worth reading.


2108 R Street NW


Through May 18, Studio Gallery will be featuring the work of Elizabeth Grusin-Howe, a Maryland-based painter, photographer and printmaker. The current show, “When the sky is clear the horizon is visible,” scenes from Venice, Italy are composed of manipulated prints and photographs that evoke the romance and weathered historic grandeur of this beloved city. Her figure paintings marvel in a similar contrasting beauty, balancing coarse brushwork with delicate, graceful form, and give us something at once permanent and ephemeral. Opening May 22 is the work of Suzanne Yurdin, which depicts centuries old architecture and picturesque villages in rich layers of mixed media. Also inspired by journeys to Italy, Spain and France, these paintings represent elements of Europe’s many glorious spaces in loose, geometric forms, offering as a suggestion of place more than a demarcation.


9 Hillyer Court NW


Cut paper elegantly balances simplicity of form with intricacy and complexity of line and detail. An artwork may consist of only one sheet of paper, but the design and cutting techniques transform it into a surface as fine as lace. When put to rice paper, the hand-held blade creates a crisp, controlled, yet gestural line. This month, Hilyer will host an exhibition of the cut-paper work of Melanie Kehoss, in her exhibit “InterGrowth.” Like paper cutting traditions of China, Mexico and Judaism, these pieces relate to celebration. Kehoss’s banner format, reference to cross-cultural holidays, and inclusion of romantic poetry all speak toward the idea of ritual and occasion. Images from nature serve as symbols of these traditions, while suggesting the organic way in which cultures grow and merge. Also on view this month are the paintings by Lara Bandilla, whose current works are a narrative of light and movement, which suggest certain emotional states without naming or defining them.


2025 Hillyer Place NW


From May through July this year, Jane Haslem Gallery is exhibiting “The Mind/The Line/The Creation,” a show of sixteen American artists focused on the process of drawing. The foundation of any artist’s career, drawing is an often overlooked medium in the commercial art world, but in this exhibit it is brought center stage, highlighting the point from which each artist approaches drawing. Different artists draw for different reasons. For some, it is the preferred medium. Others use drawing as a tool to work out problems in paintings and larger works. Still more use the juxtaposition of line and shape to create illusions and trick the viewer’s eye. And then there are artists who use drawing as a way to tell a story. Perhaps the highlight of this show covers the ladder spectrum, showcasing drawings by Charles Schulz, the cartoonist behind Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, and other seminal American cartoonists from the 20th century, like Walt Kelly (Pogo) and Martin Branner (Winnie Winkle). This exhibit is an exploration of the last 100 years in line, and one that ought not to be missed
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Book Hill Gallery Walk

April 19, 2013

Thanksgiving came early this year, and the Christmas lights went up faster than you can say “Black Friday.” The season is upon us—the season of parades, of family, of thanks, of beauty and of giving. We understand that artwork makes an exemplary gift for its beauty and uniqueness. What is most transcendent about a truly magnifi- cent work of art is its generational permanence. It carries with it an innate history, story and feeling that few other objects can. A painting is created by its artist, but it is not brought to life until it is displayed and appreciated by its owners.

The Georgetown galleries on Book Hill, clustered among a few blocks of Wisconsin Avenue, enliven our community with art. This group of galler- ies offers a great variety of works to explore, from renowned glasswork to master prints to the contemporary and avant-garde. Their collective neigh- borhood holiday event last weekend was an unforgettable occasion, and one we hope becomes an annual Georgetown tradition. Here’s a look at what’s happening in Book Hill this month. For more information on the George- town galleries on Book Hill, visit www.GeorgetownGalleries.com.

At Neptune Fine Art, gallery director Christine Neptune specializes in Modern and Contemporary art, with an extensive collection of artists ranging from contemporary masters such as Mel Bochner and Alex Katz, to the timeless works of the Cubists and Impres- sionists. She also boasts an unmatched collection of etchings and prints by lauded but lesser-known contemporary artists, and with exhibitions such as last month’s “All About Etching: Start Your Collection,” provides expertise on connoisseurship, authentication and condition for first-time art buyers and younger audiences. She is currently exhibiting small oil paintings by longtime gallery artist and contemporary still life painter Colleen Cox, who paints with a simple beauty and soft texturality of timeless appeal.

Gallerist Robert Brown specializes in 20th-century and con- temporary works as well as rare Chinese advertising post- ers from the early 1900s and Chinese antiques. Currently on exhibit is a show of drawings and prints by renowned Scan- danavian artist Per Kirkeby, which informally but powerfully complements the artist’s retrospective at The Phillips Collec- tion in Dupont Circle. This is Brown’s first exhibit of Kirkeby’s work, which illuminates Kirkeby’s sophistication of line and form while detailing his fascination with objects and natural elements that spawns from his training as a geologist. This is a chance to experience Kirkeby on an intimate and internal level, through Dec. 15.

Through Jan. 5, Heiner Contemporary is hosting the exhibit Housebound, a group show exploring the depiction of home environments and domestic spaces, featuring work by Rachel Farbiarz, Bella Foster, Allison Gilder- sleeve, Allison Reimus, Ann Toebbe and Augusta Wood. Working in a variety of media, these artists address “home” as a reflection of the self, where rooms become extensions of one’s personality, where memories are held and lives are recorded. Augusta Wood memorializes her grandparents’ former home by projecting family snapshots in layers onto the walls of the now vacant house. Her haunting photographs provide an interesting comparison to Ann Toebbe’s cozy, created-from-memory cut paper and painted rooms.

The grid can be traced back to the beginning of human civilizations, and artists have often used grids as simple tools. Still others, like Sol LeWitt to Agnes Martin, used them as the objective in itself. For Natasha Karpinskaia, grids represent a structural and compositional device. Instead of working on a single surface, Karpinskaia creates separate paintings and organizes them in a grid format, turning individually functioning pieces into a unified element, where the pieces enrich each other and produce an even stronger statement. Sometimes, abstract and sometimes playful, her use of grids helps her to achieve a unique rhythm and elegance in her work. Her exhibit of monotypes and paintings at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, Variations on a Grid, is on view through Jan. 5.

Spring into the National Children’s Museum

April 10, 2013

Now that spring is upon the capital city and parents are looking for activities to entertain the little ones, consider a visit to the National Children’s Museum.

The new museum picks up where the Capital Children’s Museum left off when it closed its doors in 2004 after Congress designated and renamed it as the only nationally recognized cultural and educational museum devoted to children.
Relocated to National Harbor, Md., the new, interactive 18,000 square foot museum is designed with children ages eight-years-old and under in mind.

“One of the things we do is promote child directed, open-ended play,” said NCM president, Willard Whitson. “All of our exhibits allow kids to create their own narrative.”

The museum includes two exhibits designed with specific age groups in mind.

The 3 & Under gallery aims to help little ones develop and discover their fine motor skills and stimulate their senses.
Babies ages one year and younger can experience the gallery’s Infant and Crawler Zone, while toddlers can engage in “pretend play” and navigate climbing structures surrounded the classic Sesame Street characters.

“We have a significant partnership with Sesame workshop, evident in the 3 & under,” said Whitson “They helped develop other areas in the museum. It’s the home for Sesame Street in the D.C. area.”

The Our World gallery invites older children (ages 3 to 8) to explore community and the world around them with interactive exhibits. Visitors can actively engage in their own hypothetical community through the My Town exhibits that features a pizza parlor and a campaign center. The other exhibits, Map Zone and World Cultures, uses touchscreens and collaborative maps to show kids the similarities and differences between global societies.

Whitson says the exhibits aim to inspire children to use their imagination and learn to play cooperatively. “We provide the props and sets for them to interact in a different way every time they visit,” said Whitson. “The purpose of that is to show we have common needs but there is a diverse ways we meet those needs.”

In addition to the galleries, NCM houses a 130-seat theatre that presents original productions by the in-house theater company, as well as guest performances.

The NCMs Center for Learning and Innovation, winner of the Judith P. Hoyer Award for Outstanding Service to Children, presents educational programs that reflect the core initiatives of the museum, including literacy, culture and art, health and wellness, and global citizenship.

The museum also offers a Free Family Night sponsored by GEICO the third week of each month that includes free admission to the museum and themed hands-on activities.

Since opening its doors on December 14, 2012, NCM has welcomed approximately 65,000 visitors and anticipates 200,000 visitors annually.

Open seven days a week, admission to the museum is $10 and parking is available in the National Harbor’s parking garage.
For information on hours or to plan your trip, visit (note website url) www.ncm.museum. [gallery ids="119381,119388" nav="thumbs"]

Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet at the Phillips Collection

Abstract Expressionism is forever the American art movement. Like the myth of the Old West, with its solitary heroes and uncompromising visions of greatness, it has become an archetype of the freedom, boldness and gut instinct brilliance that, despite doubts, convolutions and conflicting social mores, is synonymous with our Land of the Free.

Among the mystifying surface aspects of Abstract Expressionism, and one that also borrows from the Wild West playbook, is the seeming lack of narrative convention. It alludes to an intelligence of history from which it stands drastically apart, searching in its wildness for something new and bountiful that lies beyond the horizon.

There are many artistic predecessors of Abstract Expressionism—from the Russian painters Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, to the European surrealists and early American modernists like Arthur Dove—but for much of the American public around 1950 who had not been privy to this work, it was a cultural ambush. Picasso was still the apex of contemporary, and French Impressionism was still perfectly in fashion. Then Jackson Pollock walked through the door with his cowboy’s swagger and a cigarette dangling from his mouth like a weathervane and began flinging paint like he was fighting off demons.

The creative force of Abstract Expressionism impelled the global shift of artistic prominence from Europe to the United States, and its singular significance in shaping postwar American culture is widely noted. What is less broadly discussed, but equally important, is the movement’s effects on Europe, which up until then had been sole sovereign of its artistic legacy since before the Roman Empire.

At the Phillips Collection through May 12, “Angels, Demons and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet,” examines this transcontinental arc with a gorgeous exhibit that focuses on the relationship and mutual artistic influence between Pollock (1912-1956), the French painter Jean Dubuffet (1901-85), and Alfonso Ossorio (1916-1990), a lesser known American painter and collector who served as conduit and liaison. Featuring major works by all three artists, as well as ample prints, drawings and works on paper, “Angels, Demons and Savages” takes its audience into the rapidly evolving process of these artists during the postwar period of 1945 to 1958.

The great thing about Pollock’s representation in this show is how clearly his process and influences are displayed. Pollock has become an artistic entity since his death, referenced more frequently as a signifier than a painter. Here he is shown not as Pollock the myth, but as Pollock the artist, with drawings, prints and collages exhibiting a deeper contemplation and calculation behind his work than his adulated drip paintings allow.

A small, untitled ink drawing shows a paw-like foot in the bottom corner spiraling out of a tornado-like black mass. Here Pollock’s exalted slashes and curls are more determined, coming not from the unrestrained momentum of a paint-sopped mixing stick, but executed directly by hand. This and other stylized figurative works on paper illuminate his ongoing pursuit of figural expression, as well as his compositional tendencies, which owe greatly to Eastern calligraphy and tapestries.

It is worth noting, however, that Pollock’s large drip canvases on display are still among the most stunning painterly opuses ever created. They are even more powerful when displayed beside Dubuffet’s soil-deep landscapes.

A master of surface texture and comic brutality, Dubuffet, with his signature “low art” art brut style, simultaneously lambasted and reinvigorated the European scene. Dubuffet littered his paints with sand, tar, rocks pebbles and other earthy materials, and his subject matter at the time walked a fine line between abstraction and visual mockery. The result was as if all the landscapes and portrait studies from the previous centuries were scorched and burned, and all that remained were ashes and mutilated fragments, completely unraveled and deformed.

More so than Pollock or Dubuffet, Ossorio is was driven to implement his philosophy and intellect directly into his work. Like the surrealists that influenced him, he was interested in the idea of art as actively permeating the subconscious. He was a technical dynamo—he worked as a medical illustrator during the war—and his smaller works are like ghoulish illustrations. His paintings, whether figurative or abstract, are like gaping holes in the earth, out from which the core boils. He contained and manipulated his expressions and gestures impressively, turning drips into faces or bodies, as if taming an explosion.

Early into their developments, Pollock, Dubuffet and Ossorio all mastered the understanding of a structure and insistency that thread their oeuvres together. There is a successful suggestion, if nebulous, that finds the proper marriage of mood, color, tone and style.

The artistic and conversational exchanges between these three artists can be traced throughout the rest of cultural history up until now—our collective appreciation of overcoming traditional boundaries and ceaseless interest in innovation that has now reached a subliminal level can probably find its roots in the unpredictable art of the 1950s. As the focal point of the art world shifted from Europe to America, the exchange between these protagonists helped bridge the ever-widening gap between the continents and paved the road for generations to come.

“Angels, Demons and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet” at the Phillips through May 12. [gallery ids="101214,144986,144983" nav="thumbs"]

Exquisitely Evil Arrives at Spy Museum

December 5, 2012

Nov. 16 marked the opening of Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains at the Spy Museum. Tied in with the recent 50th anniversary of Dr. No and the release of Skyfall, the exhibit commemorates a different side of the James Bond franchise – the villains of the series. Exquisitely Evil looks at Bond each villain and how his nemeses have evolved over time.

This was one of the first times that the villains of the series were a main focus, and many of the museum staff were eager to see the franchise in this light.

“Where would Bond be without villains?” asked Milton Maltz, founder and chairman of the Spy Museum.

Exquisitely Evil aims to cater to a wide audience. Accordingly, the Spy Museum worked for fifteen months on an exhibit that would engage everyone, from Bond aficionados to families with children. Numerous articles are on lend from EON Productions, the London-based producer of the James Bond films. The exhibit’s displays are both interactive and static and are full of Bond related information and artifacts.

Items on display include Jaw’s teeth from The Spy Who Loved Me, the destroyed satellite from Goldeneye and Dr. No’s infamous tarantula from the first Bond film. The exhibit’s interactive displays include a very dynamic, motion activated shark tank and the opportunity to create a villainous persona and lair.

“My favorite part of the exhibit is the shark tank,” Maltz said, “People will find it interesting – it’s safe danger.”

Profiles of Bond villains can be seen throughout the exhibit. These feature a biography and a summary of their evil schemes. All of Bond’s major nemeses are present, from Irma Bunt to Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The exhibit also features stories from real spies, made possible by former members of the CIA that shared their experiences.

With the 50th anniversary of the series, Bond has been on everyone’s mind recently. Exquisitely Evil brings the villains to the forefront, and the exhibit’s visitors will be surrounded by characters that so many have loved to hate.

Many people have their personal favorites among Bond’s nemeses.

“Rosa Klebb [is my favorite villain],” Dame Stella Rimington, former head of MI5 and attendee of the exhibit’s opening, said, “When I first became head of MI5, I had a journalist tell me that I wasn’t at all like her, like she had expected. I was kind of offended.”

Exquisitely Evil will remain at the Spy Museum until 2014.
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No ‘Doubt’ about Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn

November 6, 2012

Words civilize us. They separate us fair-haired and dexterous animals of intellect from the world of beasts. A baby’s first word is perhaps the first great milestone of their life because words denote the very wonder and intelligence of humankind.

Words can also make us stupid and unbearable.

We often use our words to equivocate, deceive and inflict pain. With them we can distort reality, underscore prejudice, betray one another, and lie to ourselves.

This sort of linguistic relativity—the intention versus perception of our words—is a chance we take every time we open our mouths or put pen to paper. We try to deliver out into the world our thoughts and imaginings, in essence our very selves, and this is perhaps where words seem to falter. Words fail us ¬– or we fail our words – when they do not do justice to what we feel inside.

In her current installation at the Hirshhorn Museum, Barbara Kruger (b. 1945) takes this chance on a monumental scale, releasing her words to form a lexical portrait of our country. With phrases, questions and verbal symbols cramming the walls and floors of the gallery, “Barbara Kruger:

Belief+Doubt” paints a contemporary silhouette of a thoughtful but frustrated American society.
By the 1980s, Kruger was at the forefront of artists who brought photographic illustration and mass media techniques into the mainstream. Pulling from her experience as a magazine photo editor and designer, she reproduced large-scale photomontages from old books and magazines emblazoned with banners of her own text, turning conceptual art into a vibrant public discourse. For instance, across a Rockwellian image of a grade-school girl sweetly poking the curled bicep of her young friend (triggering an image of innocence, sentimentality and the romantic heroism of the 1950s), a bold red banner reads, “We don’t need another hero.”

Since the 1990s, Kruger has focused increasingly on creating environments that immerse the viewer in language. She has employed sound and video projection, orchestrated landscapes of words and, as in this current installation, enclosed her viewers in entire rooms wrapped in text.

However, this installation does not just stand out for its satirical witticism. In “Belief+Doubt” Kruger moves beyond pointing at the vagaries of our social mores in an effort to tackle them head-on.
Descending the escalator to the Hirshhorn’s basement galleries, the trim beneath the ground-floor banisters has written on it four questions. “Whose body?” “Whose beliefs?” “Whose power?” “Whose values?

This is the primer for the sociopolitical labyrinth you are about to enter.

The front wall of the installation, covered from corner to corner in white letters that stretch from floor to ceiling, reads, “Belief + Doubt = Sanity.”

With three words, Kruger offers a hopeful equation that encapsulates our country’s current state of erratic political discord. Though we are at polarizing odds, we all have our tenets and our reservations—and these are often things we struggle to put into words.

Taking up the walls and floors of the large room, including the adjoining gift shop and undersides of the escalators, Kruger’s words become an accumulation of social taboos, moral inevitabilities and political ponderings. “Believe anything. Forget everything. Look for the moment when pride becomes contempt. You want it. You buy it. You forget it.”

The words point to bigger questions beyond themselves. “Who prays loudest? Who is free to choose?”
There aren’t any answers, and maybe these words form the wrong questions, but she is unafraid to ask them. This project is wildly sincere and yet, in a way, unsettlingly ambivalent. These cultural ellipses are bracingly direct, but without the usual soapbox posturing we are inured to witnessing from the political milieu. I think Kruger just wants us to think, to confront our angels and demons in ourselves and in each other, honestly and simply.

“Barbara Kruger: Belief+Doubt” is on view through 2014. For more information visit www.Hirshhorn.si.edu.

Women’s National History Museum Inches Closer to Reality

Washington is a town of monuments. It is also a town of museums.

We have museums of art, history, modern art, science and natural history, a Holocaust museum, the National Museum of the American Indian and the soon-to-be Museum of African American History and Culture.

Yet, there is still no museum that honors the achievements of American women or role of women in American history.

That cause for women came a little closer to reality recently when Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., introduced a bill to create a federal commission to determine the feasibility of constructing a National Women’s History Museum in Washington. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, is introducing a companion bill in the Senate.

For the National Women’s History Museum organization and its president and CEO Joan Wages, the news brings them one step closer to making the dream of a National Women’s History Museum a reality. “We are thrilled to have this legislation introduced by such distinguished national leaders as Sen. Collins, Rep. Maloney and Del. Norton and ten prominent senators as co-sponsors,” Wages said. “The establishment of a commission would be a giant step forward to help obtain an all-important site for the National Women’s History Museum on or close to the National Mall—the place where our nation shows what it honors.”

Aside from the Women In Military Service For America Memorial at Arlington Cemetery, there is no institution in the capital region which is solely dedicated to honoring women’s role in American history.

Bills to create a National Women’s History Museum have been passed in the Senate and in the House in various versions, but no bill has ever established a commission.

The other co-sponsors of the Senate bill include Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sen Mary Landrieu, D-La., Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sen. Amy Klobucher, D-Minn., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Video Games Make It to the Level of Art

August 10, 2012

We talk a lot these days about the effect of technology–sweeping, growing like mushrooms, constantly changing every nano-second–of our lives.

We talk about smart phones, iPhones, iPads, Kindles, texting, tweets, blogs and e-mails (already considered a dated technology). We talk about aps, wi-fi and the net.

We still talk about video games, as in “All they ever do is play video games.” That means these days Nintendo, XBox as well as games that resemble movies and games that become movies. Rarely, however, do we talk about the art of video games.

Now, though, you can talk about the art of video games. At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, there’s a popular (and big, big, big) exhibition called “The Art of the Video Game.” Oddly enough, it focuses not only on the art of the video game but — just as important — on the history of video games across five eras and 40 years of video game development. It focuses on graphics, technology and storytelling by way of examining 20 gaming systems that range from the Atari VCS to the Play Station 2, which continues to wreak havoc with the budgets of the parents of budding gamers all over the United States.

“Video games are a prevalent and increasingly expressive medium within modern society,” said Chris Melissinos, the former chief gaming officer of Sun Microsystems and founder of Past Pixels, who is the guest curator for the exhibition. “In the 40 years since the introduction of the first home video game, the field has attracted exceptional artistic talent. Video games, which include classic components of art, offer designers a previously unprecedented method of communicating with and engaging audiences by including a new element. The player who completes the vivid, experiential art form by personally interacting with the game elements.”

There are 80 video games in the exhibition, which were selected with the help of a popular vote. The games are represented by way of images, video footage and interviews with game developers, graphic artists, backed up by actual game consoles and large screen shots from current and past video games. If that sounds a little bit dry, the reality is far from dry or academic.

You may, at first, not be able to concentrate on getting your mind around the thematic “Art of the Video Game.” Try “Sounds of the Video Game,” bells and whistles of the video game, or the sheer presence of so many video games in one place, making that area set apart for the exhibition, a giant arcade.

Best of all for gamers of all ages, you can even play video games: five of them, to be exact, from each key era in the history of video games. For this writer (and video game luddite), it doesn’t go back far enough, given that I used to play pinball machines at a time when whatever remaining arcades survived were being taken over by, you guessed it, video games like Pac Man, Space Invaders and Donkey Kong before the revolutionary arrival of Super Mario Brothers. We remember playing Pong, a kind of electronic ping pong game which could be played by two people at a bar table, which was as slow as molasses, perfect for people who were drinking and playing at the same time.

When you walk into this exhibition, you might feel as if you’re being ambushed. It’s alive. Located near the entrance are the five playable games, where at an early visit to the exhibition back in April (it runs through September 30), we watched a father and son–two generations of gamers–take turns at Pac Man, where ravenous heads-with-toothy mouths–ate their way through mazes–or not. “I thought dad did pretty well,” the son said. “Naw, I was a lot quicker back in the day.” Pac Man, from 1981, was a game impossible to forget probably because of its figures and their voracious appetites, which would eventually expand to include a Pac Woman.

As art goes, it was simple, like an early Disney cartoon or a Japanese comic book. The other four games which visitors can play all advance the “art” of the video game. You look at Super Mario Brothers, which was actually made into a movie with their villains and heroes and bouncing characters, and the plot line and atmospherics of The Secret of Monkey Islands, and later the much more intricate Myst and Flower. You begin to see the creation of stories with sequels, increasingly difficult environments to navigate, requirements for imagination, the ability to think ahead and faster and faster reaction times.

If you go through the exhibition, with all its noises and high-spirited colors, the energy created by older visitors (nostalgia) and younger visitors (excitement along with a nerdy feel for gaming esoterica), you get a good sense of the boundless potential for the world of video games. More than that, you get a hint of how games are connected to everything else that’s going on inside smart phones, on computer screens, in the wired, miniaturized, instantaneous world we live in, as well as its explosive nature.

Thousands of gamers attended back in March when the exhibition held a three-day, “GameFest,” with talks, discussions, open game playing, music and movies. Attendance remains high: it’s after all about the gamer generation, triumphant and validated.
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