American Art's Outdoor Sculpture Instagram Challenge
July 29, 2014

Instagram Challenge

Watertower by Tom Fruin. Photo by Restless Collective.

This July, American Art held its first Instagram Challenge through a partnership with Restless Collective (RC), a New York-based multimedia collective specializing in travel and adventure storytelling. The Instagram Challenge is intended to raise awareness and appreciation for public outdoor sculpture across the country. For 30 days in July, we invited everyone to explore and interact with alfresco art anywhere: discovering it locally or traveling on summer vacation. The Challenge asked participants to take a snapshot or selfie with an outdoor sculpture that meets the criteria for each day of the challenge and then share it with us and Restless Collective. Co-founders of RC, Morrigan McCarthy and Alan Winslow, photographed and interviewed people about outdoor sculptures at the same time, and chronicling their July on their Summer of Sculpture Tumblr.

On the final day of the Challenge, July 31st from noon to 4 p.m., Morrigan and Alan will be at American Art, doing what they do best: sharing stories. Afterward, they will lead an Instagram Walkabout around the museum neighborhood to —you guessed it— photograph more sculptures! Public programs coordinator Katie Crooks has been working with RC and sat down with Morrigan to get the scoop on RC's backstory, goals, and work.

Eye Level: Let's start off with some background. How did you two meet and get into the travel/adventure/photography/storytelling business? How does one even get into this type of work?

Morrigan McCarthy: We met while both working for a summer at a photography workshop on the coast of Maine. Alan was working in the digital printing lab and I was assistant teaching. We hit it off that summer and decided to move to New York City together in October of that year. It was there, in a tiny studio apartment that we came up with the idea for our first adventure together, Project Tandem.

We both have backgrounds in environmental science, and we were interested in the American debate over climate change. We wanted to get a pulse from ordinary folks, not just the media or people with platforms. So we set off to ride bicycles 11,000 miles around the United States, photographing portraits of Americans and interviewing them about their thoughts on the issue. It was both our first time doing anything like that, and it was nerve-wracking to just jump in with both feet! We had two bicycles, a small tent, and a few clothes, with a small grant that allowed us to cover our very minimal costs. We spent most nights camping in farmers' fields and behind fire stations. Over the 11 months that we cycled, we developed a process that felt like a good and natural way to tell real stories. The process has evolved quite a bit since then. But that type of work is still the foundation for what we do now.

EL: Your passion and talent for what you do indicates that this is more than just a job. What does Restless Collective mean to you, and what are its overarching goal(s)?

MM: Restless Collective is a way to formalize our work together, allowing us to combine our individual strengths. We've been working together for seven years now. When clients hire or collaborate with Restless Collective, they get the benefit of our ground-level sociologically-flavored style: my background in documentary and Alan's background in art. Our goal is simple: we want to better understand the world around us and share great stories about it.

EL: Tell us a little bit about how the collaboration with the Smithsonian American Art Museum came about?

MM: This project fits naturally into what we do. It's exciting to have the opportunity to explore our local area in a new way. Usually we're exploring places foreign to us. So talking to people in our own city, and photographing the amazing sculpture we have around us has been great fun. We're excited to start getting the broader Instagram community involved now, and to see photographs of public sculptures from all over the United States!

EL: What's the craziest thing that has happened on one of your traveling adventures?

MM: Wow! That's a tough one. The thing that jumps to mind first is one night on our first project together. We were tenting on a golf course in Nebraska (about 9,000 miles into our trip), and it was tornado season. Being from the Northeast, neither of us had ever really been near a tornado, so when we woke up in the dark to the sound of birds going crazy, we didn't really know what was happening. We were both just laying there, wide awake, listening, and then all if the sudden everything went completely silent. We unzipped the tent and in the lightning flashes we could see the sky was all greenish. We knew that was bad, and so we grabbed our cameras, laptop, hard drives, and sleeping bags and made a run for it. We got to the golf course's public restroom just as the hail started and we sat in the doorway watching our little tent get thrashed in the wind. Eventually, it got so nasty we went inside, put our sleeping bags under the sinks (you're supposed to be near plumbing, if possible) and slept the rest if the night there, figuring that if our tent and bikes were going to get carried away in a tornado, there wasn't much we could do about it. In the morning we were thrilled to find that the bikes and all our gear had held the tent down. We packed up and headed into town when locals told us that the tornado had passed pretty close to the golf course. We were just lucky! Maybe that's not the craziest thing that's ever happened to us, but it was one of the first crazy things!

EL: OK, sky's the limit! You have no scheduling conflicts, a limitless budget, and endless possibilities. What would your ideal next project be?

MM: We've talked about sailing around the world, but also about following the old spice routes. We also both love food, so maybe a food-based project is next! Right now we're focused on turning our most recent project, The Geography of Youth (an around-the-world journey to document the Millennial generation) into a public art show that will be able to be projected in public spaces worldwide in 2015.

Posted by Jeff on July 29, 2014 in American Art Everywhere, Five Question Interviews
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In this Case: Visitor's Choice #3
July 28, 2014

Getting to know some of our visitors was the inspiration for a new blog series, Visitor's Choice. In this series, we ask our regulars about their favorite artworks and why they like them. Since everyone has a unique relationship with art, some of the posts will be more in-depth than others, some might reflect the artist's intent, and some might have more of a personal meaning.

Visitor's Choice at American Art

Tara NaTasha standing next to her favorite artwork at American Art: James F. Dicke II's Untitled #21.

In the third installment of our Visitor's Choice series, we spoke with local, self-described "designer artist" Tara NaTasha. Tara has been a regular fixture at our Luce Foundation Center programs for a couple of years now, especially our art making activities. We always enjoy seeing her here and enjoy the creative results she comes up with!

Tara is an extremely creative individual and loves to share her passion for art with everyone around her. When I spoke with Tara about her favorite piece here at American Art, she shared this insightful interpretation of James F. Dicke II's Untitled #21:

I love what this piece accomplishes by just using color. It's easy to be transported to a place when the subject is a place or something that you can (or want to) relate to, but what happens when the subject, is essentially, nothing?

When a work inspires your imagination to create a special and unique place within its context and using its composition, it becomes great. The only thing better than a work that's not the same thing twice, is a work that guarantees that you'll enjoy that many variations that it may come in over the years.

Jim Dicke's paintings certainly invite this kind of close looking and personal reflection. As an artist, he believes that ambiguity and beauty should address the senses and strives to create pieces that will make the viewer want to take another look.

Do you have a favorite piece in our collection? If you do, stop by the Luce Center information desk. We'd love to hear about it and maybe you'll see yourself on here on Eye Level!

Posted by Bridget on July 28, 2014 in American Art Here, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Art-o-Mat Swap Meet, Take 2
July 24, 2014

The American Art Museum will host its second Art-o-mat® swap meet on Saturday, July 26 in collaboration with Artists in Cellophane. Artists will gather in our Luce Foundation Center from all over the country for an afternoon of meet and greets, artist demoes, and artpak making. To appreciate an Art-o-mat®, read Eye Level's blog post from 2011, when the Luce Center received its own Art-o-mat®.

Participating artist Rachel Ourada recently took a break from getting ready for the trip to answer a few questions about her involvement with Art-o-mat®.


Left: Rachel Ourada in her studio. Photo courtesy of the artist. Right: Ourada's fabric buttons.

Eye Level: How long have you been an Art-o-mat® artist, and how did you become a participant and contributor?

Rachel Ourada: I've been an Art-o-mat® artist since 2012. My neighbor, Scott Blake, is an artist and fills the machines in Omaha, Nebraska. We met in 2012 when the city tore up a main street in our neighborhood. Thanks to the lack of traffic, we met and started talking. Scott helped me come up with my first Art-o-mat® prototype.

EL: What is involved from the beginning stages to the final stages of creating art for the Art-o-mat®?

RO: I work in several media on a regular basis, and this is reflected in my Art-o-mat® designs. My primary medium is the fabric button. I design my own fabric to create unique pieces of jewelry and accessories. For Art-o-mat®, I offer a menagerie of animal face earrings and colorful bike hairpins. Making fabric buttons takes lots of cutting, patience, and teeny tiny parts. I start every design digitally, and those designs are then transferred to fabric. It’s important to me that I use only my custom fabric. It is what sets me apart, and it allows me to create unusual designs that haven’t been seen before. I also do small runs of hand sculpted thumbs and tentacles. I like working with Sculpey. I love working with the bright colors, some of which glow in the dark. I accent these tiny sculptures with enamel paint and bits of chain. They aren’t functional; they are partially decorative and completely weird.

My background is in printmaking and making reproductions of original artwork. I have a handful of illustrations that I adhere to painted wooden blocks. I enjoy drawing skulls, and I have a few unique skull illustrations that I use for Art-o-mat®. When I make anything, Art-o-mat® or otherwise, my main objective is to create something unusual that has never been done before. My goal is to put a little bit of my personality into something someone will enjoy.

EL: What do you think of the Art-o-mat® machine as a creative outlet and option for artists such as yourself?

RO: I love working with Art-o-mat®. It has been a great venue for my work. I’ve received emails from people all over the country who got my art when they pulled the lever. I don’t know of anything else an artist could participate in that would give them the positive national exposure that I’ve received as an Art-o-mat artist. By being limited by the small size, it has really pushed me to think on a detailed level. You have a finite size (2 1/8 x 3 1/4 x 7/8 in.) to fill with creativity. You have the packaging and the placard to introduce yourself and your artwork. It’s a great opportunity to work inside and outside the box, literally and figuratively, at the same time. I always encourage other artists I meet to participate in Art-o-mat®. You get at least as much back as you put in. There aren’t many opportunities for artists that can promise the same. For customers, the experience can open them up to purchasing art and interacting with artists. Buying handmade things directly from an artist can be intimidating for some. What's less threatening than a vending machine?

EL: Why should visitors come to our Art-o-mat® Swap Meet on Saturday?

RO: How could you miss out on such a great opportunity to meet in person so many interesting artists? Nothing compares to finding a great piece of art and meeting the person behind it.

EL: Are you looking forward to meeting and swapping art with any particular Art-o-mat® artists?

RO: This is the first time that I’ve ever participated in an Art-o-mat® event. I’m looking forward to meeting as many Art-o-mat artists as I possibly can. I can’t wait to see what artwork I can add to my Art-o-mat® collection!

Join us at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 26 at American Art's Luce Center for an afternoon of fun!

Posted by Bridget on July 24, 2014 in American Art Here, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Q and Art: Just Looking
July 22, 2014

This post is part of an ongoing series on Eye Level: Q and Art, where American Art's Research department brings you interesting questions and answers about art and artists from our archive.


Edward Hopper's Cape Cod Morning

Question: In Edward Hopper's Cape Cod Morning, what is the woman looking at?

Answer: That's a great question. However, the answer is we don't know! The woman's gaze is fixed on a place that is beyond the border of the painting.

A 1955 TIME magazine article recorded the following conversation about Cape Cod Morning between Hopper and his wife, Jo:

"It's a woman looking out to see if the weather's good enough to hang out her wash," she explains. "Did I say that?" Hopper rumbles in contradiction, "You're making it Norman Rockwell. From my point of view, she's just looking out the window, just looking out the window."

Jo knew that Hopper did not want his paintings to tell specific stories. She may have made her comment to needle Hopper who was notoriously reticent with interviewers. Hopper's focus in the scene was the placement of the solitary figure within the window and the effect of strong sunlight on the figure and the house. Although Hopper insists that the woman in the painting is "just looking out the window", her attentive posture and confinement within the window infuses the scene with a tension that contradicts the impassive description of a woman simply looking out a window.

In 1953 Hopper wrote: "Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world." Hopper avoided narratives, yet he strove express his "inner life" in his work. It is Hopper's emotion that makes Cape Cod Morning grab our attention, causes us to ask "what is she looking at?", and makes it a painting that is difficult to forget.

To learn more about Edward Hopper look for the following resources online and at your library.

Hopper's Cape Cod Morning is part of the museum's exhibition Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection on view in American Art's First Floor West gallery until August 17. Listen to museum director, Betsy Broun, discuss Cape Cod Morning, along with other artworks in the Roby Collection, in an recent interview with NPR. And, celebrate Edward Hopper's birthday today with us by taking a look at the American Art Museum's An Edward Hopper Scrapbook.

Posted by Alida on July 22, 2014 in American Art Here, Q and Art
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Luce Unplugged Showcase: (Almost) Five Questions with Chris Taylor of Pygmy Lush
July 17, 2014

Just in time for the arrival of D.C. heat and humidity, we're bringing you our special Luce Unplugged Community Showcase, live from American Art's Luce Foundation Center this Friday, July 18th. By now you know the drill, but just as a refresher: the showcase will include a summer happy hour combination of music, art, air conditioning, and beer!

This month's Luce Unplugged featured local performers are D.C.'s The Sea Life and Virginia's Pygmy Lush. Chris Taylor of Pygmy Lush answered a few questions for Eye Level about the show.

Pygmy Lush

Pygmy Lush. Photo by Ben Tankersley.

Eye Level: We're excited to provide live performances in the already unique museum space of the Luce Foundation Center. Have you ever performed in an "alternative" space before, or an interesting venue that you consider unique?

Chris Taylor: Over the years, we've played a lot of interesting venues, I'm constantly surprised by the resourcefulness and work ethic of kids around the country, all it takes is an outlet sometimes, and in some cases not even that! The first thing that comes to mind when you say "unique" is a show we played about five years ago in Billings Montana, the place is called "Yellowstone Perk." It's a coffee shop that was closed when we got there, but the show was outside in a sort of faux Old West ghost town movie-set-type setting. Behind the faux storefront buildings was a junkyard full of old cars of every make and model. By the time we played that night, there was a huge sky above us, and two people standing in front of the stage, we played every song we knew, and the owner let us camp in the junkyard. We stayed up all night telling ghost stories and talking about old times by the fire. It was magical, and by far the most memorable if not unique venue we've ever played!

EL: In the spirit of combining different forms of expression with a concert in an art museum, besides music, what other types of artistic expression inspire you?

CT: Mike Widman and I are both carpenters. The job has a creative element that I didn't expect when I first started doing it. You find yourself helping people make decisions about the place they will spend most their time in: home. They may see a million times something I've built. And something as subtle as working out where a window should go can really affect a person's day-to-day experience. I find that inspiring.

EL: Bands often offer pared-down sets of their music to sound best in the acoustics of the Luce Center, which you will be doing on Friday! You typically perform your "noisy punk rock" as you put it, so what can we look forward to with this different type of set from Pygmy Lush?

CT: Well, we've done some pared-down sets in the past, usually by necessity. This one is exciting to me because Johnny Ward will be performing with us. He has always been a strong creative force behind the subdued side of Pygmy Lush. And it's a pleasure to indulge in our friendship and chemistry with him, if even for just a little bit. He brings the wanderer out of us.

EL: Is it true you are writing a song specifically for the upcoming Luce Unplugged performance?

CT: That is the intent, we'll see where it goes!

Join us on Friday, July 18th to find out! Everything starts at 6:00 p.m., so come beat the heat and get here early to enjoy both bands.

Posted by Erin on July 17, 2014 in Five Question Interviews, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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