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Throwback Thursday: Picture This: Trees in our Kogod Courtyard
October 16, 2014


It's Throwback Thursday! And we at Eye Level have decided it's a great opportunity to bring back some of our interesting posts from the past. American Art has been publishing our blog since September 2005 (that's an eternity in Internet years) and some of our posts are as current now as the day we first posted them.

Today, we feature a photo I took in September 2007 as the last tree was lowered into our about-to-be opened Kogod Courtyard. The seventh anniversary of our covered courtyard is coming this November 18. And, since it's opening, it's been the "go to" place to hear music from our Take 5! series, watch films, and take part in our Family Festivals. Even if there's no special event, the Kogod is the place to go for a quiet place to read and even work.


Black Olive Tree being lowered into the Courtyard

Black Olive Tree Being Lowered Into the Courtyard (View larger image)

Timing is everything. On my way to photograph the installation of Andrea Zittel's work for our upcoming exhibition Celebrating the Lucelia Artist Award, 2001—2006, I stopped off to see what was happening in our courtyard. When I arrived at work this morning I had gotten wind of a pending tree arrival. Just as I entered the courtyard I looked up and saw the third black olive tree being lowered by the crane through the one remaining opening in the Norman Foster designed glass canopy.

Down below are a series of five photographs of the tree being lifted from the street, up to the canopy, and finally down to the courtyard floor. These were taken by Smithsonian Landscape Architect Paul Lindell. Great shots.


tree at street level tree being raised to roof of building tree over canopy tree going through canopy tree on courtyard floor

Click on photos for larger images.

Related Posts: Smithsonian Horticulturists Talk About American Art's Flora, Picture This: Courtyard Update and Picture This: A Hole in One

Top photo by Jeff Gates; bottom photos by Paul Lindell.

Posted by Jeff on October 16, 2014 in Picture This, Throwback Thursday
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Reflections on the Work of Richard Estes
October 15, 2014


Richard Estes

Richard Estes, Double Self-Portrait, 1976, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mr.and Mrs. Stuart M. Speiser Fund, 1976. © Richard Estes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

"Richard is in love, obviously, with the way the world looks, but he's also in love with the act of painting and the magic of the act of painting," said independent curator and art historian Patterson Sims during "An Evening with Richard Estes" last week at American Art's McEvoy Auditorium. Sims is co-curator of Richard Estes' Realism, the exhibition of the celebrated photorealist painter that originated in Portland, Maine and recently opened in the museum's first floor galleries, the final venue of a well-received, two-museum tour. The exhibition is the first complete overview of Estes' work in the U.S. since 1978.

Before Estes joined him for an onstage conversation, Sims took us on a journey through highlights of Estes' career. Projections of early works show the artist finding his footing in realism, having his first show in New York City in 1968, when he was in his mid-thirties. As Sims explained, that was a time when an artist could knock on gallery doors and show his or her work. Then, New York galleries were primarily situated between 57th and 86th streets. After going from gallery to gallery, Estes came to the last street and the last gallery, the Allan Stone Gallery. Fortunately, Stone said yes and agreed to represent Estes and give him a show.

Estes works from his own photographs, and in some of his iconic works, you can see his reflection in plate glass windows, the reflection of a man with a camera and tripod. Reflection is also key to Estes' work, as water, glass, and chrome often act as conduits for images to be seen in multiple perspectives on a single canvas. But it's an abstracted reality, as Estes often combines elements from different photographs to create a single image.

In the Q&A that followed the talk, we learned that many of Estes' compositions are oil on top of an acrylic base; that he's not a big fan of Pop or abstraction; and that he now uses a digital camera and manipulates his photos in PhotoShop. When it was time for self-reflection, Sims asked how he became an artist, to which Estes replied, "I couldn't do anything else. I like being an artist because I can do it myself."

Richard Estes' Realism remains on view at the museum through February 8, 2015. To find out more about the artist view the webcast of "An Evening with Richard Estes."

Posted by Howard on October 15, 2014 in American Art Here
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Seeing Things (14): Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman
October 6, 2014


This is the fourteenth in a series of personal observations about how people experience and explore museums. Take a look at Howard's other blog posts about seeing things.

When Eric Fischl inaugurated the Clarice Smith Distinguised Lectures in American Art series recently, he covered a lot of material. Though best-known as a painter, he's worked in a variety of media in his more than forty year career. Ten Breaths: Tumbling Woman II a second sculpture he made in response to the events of 9/11 is currently on view on the third floor of the American Art Museum, and Fischl's remarks are certainly worth noting.

The original Tumbling Woman was unveiled at Rockefeller Center on the first annivesary of 9/11. A firestorm erupted around it and it was covered up and removed a few days later. According to Fischl, "The experience of 9/11, the trauma and tragedy was amplified by the fact that there were no bodies. You had 3000 people who died and no bodies, so the mourning process turned to the language of architecture." That led to a question about how to grieve and how to memorialize. "Do you shoot up lights that look and imitate like ghosts of the building, or do the footprints of the building have to be preserved as sacred ground?" Fischl asked.

What makes this Tumbling Woman different from the original, is a matter of scale and a simple gesture of the arm. "I extended her arm in the hopes that someone would grab her arm and help slow the tumbling down."

Unlike the people we lost on 9/11, Fischl's Tumbling Woman, remains with us, at the moment of impact—her skin a haunting shade of fire.

Posted by Howard on October 6, 2014 in American Art Here
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James Castle: No Place Like Home
September 26, 2014


Untitled: The Art of James Castle opens today at American Art and features fifty-four works by the artist that were recently acquired by the museum. The exhibition remains on view through February 1, 2015.

In conjunction with the show, the exhibition curator and the Fleur and Charles Bresler Senior Curator of Decorative Art and Craft, Nicholas Bell, will moderate a discussion with Lynne Cooke, senior curator, National Gallery of Art; Jacqueline Crist, managing partner, James Castle Collection and Archive; Frank Del Deo, managing partner, James Castle Collection and Archive and, member, Del Deo & Barzune LLC Art Advisory; and Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art, as they explore Castle’s remarkable artistic vision. The discussion will take place October 2 at 6:30 p.m. here at the museum. It will also be webcast live.

James Castle

James Castle's Untitled

James Castle was born in Idaho in 1899 and died there in 1977. Profoundly deaf since birth, Castle, unlike his siblings who were destined to work on the family farm, found himself picking up tools to make art at a young age, his way of negotiating day-to-day life. As he grew he used the materials found at home: scraps of paper, food packaging (the back of an ice-cream container or the wrapping from frozen spinach), and whatever else he could find. He also, unconventionally, used soot and saliva, to create many of his works on paper.

According to Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art at the museum and co-author of the exhibition catalogue, his subject matter was composed of the following, "...Western style barns tucked against mountains, parked horse buggies, wallpapered bedrooms with mirrored dressers and cast-iron beds, stocked kitchen pantries, doorways and doorknobs, the mailroom his parents operated out of the family home, street scenes and power lines, the cemetery." From these humble beginnings, Castle managed to capture the people and places around him in visually complex interiors and exteriors. He also created his own books with their own alphabets and syllabary: in effect, he created his own world.

Posted by Howard on September 26, 2014 in American Art Here, Lectures on American Art
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Eric Fischl: Painting Stories
September 24, 2014


Eric Fischl

Eric Fischl's The Clemente Family ©2005, Eric Fischl

Having titled his recent memoir Bad Boy: My Life on and off the Canvas, Eric Fischl kicked off this season's annual Clarice Smith Distinguished Lectures in American Art series with a survey of his work, spanning more than forty years. From art school to the heady days of being an art star in New York City in the 1980s, to his life and current work on Long Island where he lives with his wife, painter April Gornik, Fischl's eye and intelligence were apparent. The bad boy is now 66, with a mane of white hair—more eminence than troublemaker.

Fischl began the talk by showing us an abstract painting he struggled to complete in art school, a painting that he said changed his life, and became "the muse" that he built his career on. So frustrated by the process that he poured turpentine on the canvas, and where the paint disappeared, he painted a shape that resembled a house, a room, a bed, or all of the above. As Fischl began to explore figuration, that shape became both sign and symbol for the artist, as his work over the decades often features lovers in rooms, on beds ("the bed as arena"), caught in a moment in time. Like paintings by Edward Hopper—albeit with fewer clothes—Fischl strips down his subjects to create a painting as well as a psychological portrait.

From decade to decade, from room to room, exteriors and interiors, Fischl shared with us his lifelong relationship with figurative painting, printmaking, and sculpture. Glassine works from the 1980s gave Fischl the opportunity to talk about his creative process and how to assemble a narrative. Other works include celebrity portraiture, such as the Francesco Clemente family portrait, (currently on view on the third floor of the museum) and an upcoming series on art fairs. Fischl offered fascinating insights into the Clemente portrait and the role each family member plays in creating the narrative, deliberately or unwittingly. Martha Graham famously said, "movement never lies." After hearing Fischl's talk, I'm wondering if the same thing could be said about paint.

In case you missed Fischl's talk, you can watch the webcast.

On October 22, Jerry Saltz will be the next speaker in the Clarice Smith Distinguished Lectures in American Art series.

Posted by Howard on September 24, 2014 in American Art Here, Lectures on American Art
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