Luce Unplugged: Five Questions + One with April + VISTA
December 6, 2016
On December 8, April + VISTA performs at the Luce Foundation Center as a part of Luce Unplugged, our free, monthly concert series presented in part with D.C. Music Download. Hailing from the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia), this local band pulls from an eclectic range of influences from trip hop and R&B to jazz and indie rock. April George and Matthew Thompson, April + VISTA's musical duo, spoke with us about why they take musical risks, remix everything, and how diversity within the district fuels creative collaboration.
Eye Level: What inspired you both to form April + VISTA and how did you think of your band's name? Do you collaborate with other musicians in D.C.?
Matthew Thompson: The idea to form a group didn't come until we were almost finished with Lanterns. It's not often that you come across someone who you have so much chemistry with musically; so it felt like the natural next step to become a duo. After we finished writing Lanterns we began brainstorming names.
April George: And we brainstormed for weeks! We collaborate with local musicians separately, mostly with our friends (Sugg Savage, Ciscero, Goldlink, Obiisay, etc.) We're looking forward to doing collaborations with others as A+V soon.
EL: Since you're both from the DMV, what do you think makes the music scene here in D.C. unique?
MT: The greater DMV music scene is diverse. We most closely identify with the hip hop scene. Though we make more alternative music, we support and are supported by our friends' work in that hip hop/R&B/jazz space. The scene is like a small label. We bounce ideas, plan releases around each other, and collaborate often.
EL: While your music is influenced by a range of different genres, who are your personal music icons?
AG: We have so many influences, I'm not even sure if we can list them all in this post! We find inspiration in all genres of music and we look up to a wide range of artists from Oneohtrix Point Never and Nicolas Jaar to Brandy, Marvin Gaye, and Kirk Franklin. One of our biggest musical icons is Radiohead. We look up to their fearlessness and we like to think that we take risks just like they do.
EL: You both aim to push alternative soul music to new heights. What message do you hope to communicate through your music?
MT: At least for now, our music is about resilience-pushing through hardship without losing yourself. Our music is melancholy, but the theme in each song is to keep fighting and remain hopeful, despite the position you're in.
EL: What is your biggest aspiration for April + VISTA?
MT: I want A+V to inspire people in the same way our heroes have inspired us.
AG: Yes, we want to show people that it is entirely possible to find one's calling and fervently pursue that calling. Society has conditioned us to wrap these passions up and store them away, telling us that dreams are some kind of Sisyphean curse. That couldn't be further from the truth. We want to inspire people to try.
EL: How do you prepare before a show?
MT: We try to create a new experience for our fans whenever we perform live, so a huge part of our prep work is reimagining our songs. We remix everything! Once we make the remix, we practice them every day leading to the show.
AG: We also drink lots of cheap beer and eat lots of pepperoni pizzas from Ledo's.
Hear April + VISTA play Thursday, December 8 at 6 p.m. after a staff-led talk on Paul Rand's artwork, "When men can freely communicate their thoughts and their sufferings, real or imaginary, their passions spend themselves in air..." selected by the band. Learn more details about the concert on Luce's Facebook page and access April+VISTA's music on SoundCloud. More of their music is available on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and Tidal, and a limited number of physical copies of the Lanterns EP will be available for purchase at the performance.
Photography Encouraged: Noguchi Edition
December 1, 2016
Today, we begin a periodic series of photos visitors take in our galleries where, with many exhibitions, photography is encouraged. In my daily dive into our social media interactions, I take note of the unique ways you, our visitors, capture your experience in SAAM and the Renwick Gallery. Sometimes highlighting a favorite artwork, other times capturing an intimate moment shared between two people in our spaces, often interpreting art, architecture, and experience through your own vivid, creative viewpoints, it's one of my favorite ways to see our spaces. You never fail to find a new angle, capture a fleeting shadow, draw an interesting connection, or crack a sassy joke.
Many of the images taken in the Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern exhibition reflect the contemplative, futuristic nature of both the artwork and the gallery space. This selection captures texture and details that may be lost in wider shots, and offer a point of focus, of meditation, or a chance to note something new about Noguchi's work.
Follow along as we continue to share your shots inspired by our collections and spaces. Hashtag your images with #atSAAM or #RenwickGallery for a chance to be featured here on Eye Level or on our Instagram account.
An Appreciation for Artist William Christenberry
November 30, 2016
SAAM mourns the loss of artist and friend, William Christenberry, who died this past Monday at 80. As a young man, Christenberry often traveled the back roads of the South with his father. He studied painting as a graduate student at the University of Alabama until he discovered James Agee‘s book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Christenberry was moved when he realized that the tenant farmers in Walker Evans' photographs were people he remembered from growing up near Hale County, Alabama. Although Christenberry created many different kinds of art, ranging from photographs to drawings to sculptures, his experiences growing up in the South served as the subjects for most of his artwork.
Christenberry's exhibition, Passing Time: The Art of William Christenberry was one of SAAM's inaugural shows in 2006, when we opened after our main building's renovation. His sculpture, River House, is presently on view in our Luce Foundation Center. The following video, made in his studio, was produced at that time and offers you an inside look at the artist and the impetus for his work. He will be missed.
A Thanksgiving Gift from Artist Harry Cimino
November 23, 2016
Happy Thanksgiving from SAAM! To celebrate this year's holiday we wanted to share a woodcut by Harry Cimino. Cimino was a 20th century illustrator and wood engraver. This beautiful turkey is the November woodcut he did for one of Marchbanks Press' early 20th century calendars. SAAM has in its collection eleven of the twelve monthly illustrations Cimino did for that calendar.
Have a great holiday!
Director's Choice: Who Made the Cut?
November 21, 2016
In honor of Elizabeth "Betsy" Broun's nearly thirty years at the helm of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and her imminent retirement, Broun spoke to a full house last month at the McEvoy Auditorium, revealing insights and personal observations about her favorite works of art in SAAM's collection. And since she's the director, her Top Ten contains eighteen artworks. Today, I will talk about five of Broun's favorites. In the upcoming weeks, I will post about some of her other likes.
Broun opened the talk with an image of Jonah by Albert Pinkham Ryder, an artist close to her heart, and the subject of a book she published in 1989. "I worry that he's in danger of being forgotten," she told us as she shared her thoughts about his work, his era, and his influence on artists including Marsden Hartley and Jackson Pollock, who considered Ryder the greatest artist of his generation. According to Broun, the difficult later years of Ryder's life—depression, ill health, loneliness—can be seen in the canvas, as Jonah struggles in the churning sea for dear life. A giant beast descends while at the top of the painting, the artist fashioned a god of light spreading his wings, a higher power, exhibiting what Broun called "a spiritual tenaciousness."
The tour de Broun continued with Thomas Hart Benton's Wheat, another work of art that tells what might appear to be a simple story, but on deeper looking, speaks to the artist's life as well. "You know I'm from Kansas City and you get injected with the Benton juice in the hospital when you're born," Broun told us. Born in Missouri, Benton was an accomplished painter as well as musician (the first person to develop notation for harmonica music). Late in life, after a heart attack and he was no longer actively painting, a friend, "an old drinking buddy" commissioned this work to get him back in the studio. "...I think this is Benton's artistic testament...He deeply loved Walt Whitman, and I think this is his mid-Western translation of Leaves of Grass...In the front you see a couple of rows have been mowed down and harvested...And right behind is a stalk which is broken but not harvested yet."
Next up were artists who came to this country as immigrants. These include Yasuo Kuniyoshi who emigrated from Japan in 1906, followed by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, David Hockney, and Nam June Paik, each of whom came to the United States in 1964 for vastly different reasons. Having fled Bulgaria, Christo had no country or passport for seventeen years. When he arrived in New York, he was officially stateless. According to Broun, "Christo and Jeanne-Claude believed that true freedom was art." Their early project was the twenty-four-and-a-half mile Running Fence, (of which SAAM acquired the archive). "I believe he is the great artist of the Cold War; every one of his projects is related to the standoff between east and west," Broun told us. When she mentioned this theory to Christo, he replied, "Please do not make me into a political artist. I left politics in order to become a free man in art."
David Hockney, whose Savings and Loan Building, is both an homage to Southern California as well as a subtle commentary on minimalism, where everything had to be flat and on a grid. The addition of palm trees is very Hockney. As a gay man, he felt constrained in his native U.K., and left for California, where he celebrated the "swimming pool culture" of Los Angeles and the openness of the people and the landscape. Nam June Paik came to the U.S. in order to be on the forefront of technology. "He is the first artist to have the inspired idea that you could make art from television. He's called the father of video art." His Electronic Superhighway, a version of America seen through monitors and screens, holds pride of place in SAAM's Lincoln Gallery. "I'm quite fond of things that get labeled as eye candy," Broun told us, "But to me this is brain candy too, It's a tribute he did to his adopted country thirty years after he arrived. I think it's the best portrait I've ever seen of the sheer chaotic crazy regionalism of this country."
I could go on but you get the idea. Listen for yourself as Broun tells you things that will make you want to take another look at these works of art. And, if you listen carefully to all the stories you hear, you just may be the person that everyone wants to sit next to at an upcoming dinner party. You owe it to the person on either side of you to watch the entire webcast.
Stay tuned for part II of Director's Choice